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SPLC: Stephen Miller, another former Sessions staffer pushed anti-immigrant stories to Breitbart

Eddie Burkhalter

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In the second story in a series published Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center,  emails show that Trump senior advisor and former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, had ties to an anti-immigrant think-tank. 

The emails also shows that Miller wasn’t the only Sessions staffer to have been pushing for anti-immigrant stories at the conservative site Breitbart. Miller would often cite that think tank’s work, the emails shows, and worked to craft an anti-immigrant narrative that would later become central to White House policy.  

In over 80 percent of the more than 900 emails obtained by the SPLC Miller focuses on race and immigration, according to the nonprofit. The emails, sent in 2015 and 2016 from Miller’s government-issued email account and a personal account, were given to the Montgomery-based nonprofit by Katie McHugh, a former writer and editor at the conservative website Breitbart. McHugh has since renounced far-right politics, according to the SPLC. 

APR reported Wednesday on the SPLC’s first article in the series. The latest article notes emails sent to McHugh from Miller in which he continuously suggested she read the works of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a conservative think-tank that argues for lower legal immigration and that has a history of promoting the writings of numerous white nationalist authors in it’s emailed round-up of stories. 

On Aug. 12, 2015, Miller emailed McHugh an embargoed report by CIS with the subject line “Trump right again: Census data shows Mexican immigration surging – 740,000 in one year! [EMBARGOED].” according to the SPLC. 

Journalists often receive reports prior to public release and agree to keep the material from public view until an agreed-upon date, which is referred to as an “embargo.” Miller’s use of the term and early access to the report shows that he was in close connection with CIS staff. 

Other emails show Miller’s work to spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric. The SPLC notes that in an exchange on Jan. 5, 2016, Miller’s email to Breitbart editors with the subject line “Huge Surge in US newborns named ‘Mohammed.” resulted in a story the next day in Breitbart titled “Huge Surge in US newborns named ‘Mohammed.” 

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The SPLC has listed CIS as a hate group since 2016, a classification CIS has vigorously denied, including in an op-ed in The Washington Post by Mark Krikorian, executive director at CIS. 

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CIS is currently appealing a September decision by a federal judge to toss CIS’s lawsuit against former SPLC leaders  over labeling it a hate group. 

After the mass shooting in El Paso in August that killed 22 by a shooter who had written an anti-immigrant manifesto espousing many of the same talking point used CIS and other anti-immigrant groups, Krikorian at CIS told The Washington Post that the online manifesto was “Remarkably well-written for a 21-year-old loner.” 

Krikorian had previously denounced the killings on Twitter, and told the newspaper that the shooter’s ideas would have naturally come from sources like CIS. 

“If you have a guy who is going to be angry about immigration, have a killer offering reasons for shooting up immigrants, how could he not use reasons that have already been articulated by legitimate sources?” Krikorian told the reporter. 

The emails also show MIller’s work to craft Breitbart’s coverage of then-presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio related to immigration. The SPLC notes that at the time Sessions was Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. 

Emails also show Miller’s early efforts to defeat the so-called Gang of Eight bill, bi-partisan immigration reform legislation drafted after the 2012 election.

McHugh copied one July 7, 2015, email to CIS to another Sessions staffer at the time, Garrett Murch, who was then a communications advisor for the senator. SPLC’s article notes that McHugh wrote to the author of a CIS report asking why “GOP candidate Marco Rubio hasn’t publicly retracted his support for Gang of Eight.”

Murch responded in an email to McHugh suing his government-issued email account with “Perfect” after she posed her question to CIS. That same day Breitbart published a story titled “Rubio’s Gang of Eight Bill Would Have Rewarded Sanctuary Cities Harboring Illegals” and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump linked to the story in a tweet

Murch worked as a communications advisor to then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions from March 2011 until July 2016, according to Murch’s Linkedin account. He then worked as senior editor for a news website LifeZette co-founded by Fox host Laura Ingraham. 

Murch has also worked deputy director of U.S. House relations at the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation from 2005 until 2008. He now works as a political consultant in Maine, according to his social media account. 

Michael Edison Hayden, SPLC’s senior investigative reporter, told APR by phone Thursday that there are many more emails from Murch that haven’t yet been reported on, and that he expects two additional stories in the series to be published in the coming days.

Hayden said while there are plenty of people who share Miller’s believes against immigration, “they don’t have this level of neurotic focus.” Hayden said the hundreds and hundreds of email sent by Miller provides a glimpse into his obsession on immigration.

APR’s messages to Sessions’ campaign seeking comment Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday went unanswered. 

An Aug. 17 article in The New York Times further shows the close connections between Miller, Sessions, Breitbart and CIS. 

“When Mr. Sessions claimed on a conference call that the Gang of Eight bill threatened jobs, an analyst from the Center for Immigration Studies was on the line to vouch for the data, and Breitbart covered it as news,” the article states. “When the center presented its journalism award, Mr. Miller was the speaker, and his first-name references to the Center’s staff — “all the great work that Mark and Jessica and Steve are doing”— made it clear that he felt among friends.”

Trump fired Sessions over his recusal from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sessions is currently running to regain his Senate seat.

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