Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Corey Stewart has accused a New York Times reporter of breaking into the apartment of a campaign aide, saying the “far left media” was trying to undermine his campaign against Sen. Tim Kaine in Virginia.
Taking a page from the playbook of President Trump — whom Stewart has embraced and emulated — Stewart said in a news release that “the fake news media will stop at nothing to destroy Republicans” and have been “working overtime to invent wild stories to try to give advantage to Tim Kaine.”
Stewart was referring to reporter Stephanie Saul, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who went to the Woodbridge apartment of Brian Landrum on Wednesday afternoon. Landrum works part time for the Stewart campaign and part time for Prince William County, where Stewart chairs the Board of County Supervisors.
Landrum was not at home when Saul arrived but said a houseguest discovered the reporter inside his apartment. Saul scribbled down a note to Landrum requesting an interview and quickly left, Landrum said.
Stewart and Landrum said Saul broke into the apartment; a spokeswoman for the New York Times said that the houseguest answered the door and Saul left a note without entering the premises. Prince William police are investigating the incident; no charges had been filed as of Thursday.
The note indicated that Saul was looking into whether Landrum had ties to white supremacists — something Landrum denies.
Landrum was recently included in a closed group on Facebook used by a group led by Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s deadly white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville who is planning another set of rallies in Charlottesville and Washington next month.
Two months’ worth of discussions on the closed Facebook group, from May and June, were posted to the Web by a media organization called Unicorn Riot. In it, Landrum appeared to make one comment, on May 17, that consisted of four laughing-face emojis and the words “what in all f---.”
Landrum told The Washington Post that he was added to the Facebook discussion group without his consent and that he thinks his comment was a reaction to finding himself in the forum.
“I would never in a million years be a part of something so stupid and awful,” Landrum said.
Still, his appearance on the Facebook page used by Kessler and his associates has revived questions about Stewart and his flirtation with the extreme fringes of the GOP, even as Landrum dismissed the ties as nonexistent.
Stewart catapulted to the Senate nomination — and nearly won the GOP gubernatorial primary last year — by promising to protect Confederate statues and drive out illegal immigrants.
He associated with Kessler and, later, Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin candidate barred from Twitter because of anti-Semitic and racist posts. He eventually disavowed both men, saying he had not initially been aware of their extreme views.
In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, in which a counterprotester was killed by a car allegedly driven by a white nationalist, Stewart blamed “half the violence” on the left and said fellow Republicans who apologized for the bloodshed were “weak.”
A spokesman for Kaine (D-Va.) asked on Twitter whether Stewart was going to fire Landrum.
“Yes, one of Corey Stewart’s current aides has continued to coordinate/associate with Jason Kessler in 2018, months after the deadly Unite the Right rally he organized,” Kaine spokesman Ian Sams wrote on Twitter. “Stewart has claimed he ‘disavows’ Kessler. Is he going to fire this aide for continuing to work with Kessler?”
In an interview, Stewart said he did not believe Landrum was associating with white supremacists.
“Brian’s not one of those guys,” he said. “If he were, he would not be part of my team. I can guarantee you that he’s not involved with any of those guys. That’s not Brian.”
The episode gave Stewart another opportunity to assert that the media is out to get him.
“It’s like the Watergate break-in, except in this case it’s the press that’s doing the break-in,” he said.
Landrum lives in a gated Woodbridge complex. He said the door to his apartment was closed but not locked, because he did not have an extra fob for his guest, whom he declined to identify by name.
“My guest was listening to music, walking out of the bathroom in a small hallway, and turned around after hearing a noise — turned around, took her headphones off, and saw this older lady standing in my apartment who was turning and getting ready to leave,” said Landrum, 25. “My friend was freaked out, and the reporter seemed a little off guard.”
Landrum said his friend and Saul had a brief exchange that ended with the reporter dashing off a note asking him to call.
Landrum was one of about 20 Facebook users listed as “participants” in the Kessler discussion group, according to copies of the messages posted by Unicorn Riot. The group was planning the upcoming white-nationalist rallies.
“I get added to group chats all the time,” Landrum said, noting that Facebook users can get added to discussion groups without their permission. “What I typically do is I mute it and close it out.”
Landrum said he did not recall posting the comment to the Facebook group in May but said he might have been expressing shock that he was in the group.
“That’s a pretty typical remark,” he said, “for somebody added to a group without their permission.”