Parler ‘offered Trump ownership stake’ in proposed deal which may have violated anti-bribery laws

Chris RiottaSat, 6 February 2021, 6:48 pm

A photo illustration shows the logo of Conservative social media application (app) Parler on a computer and mobile telephone screen, in Paris, France, on 11 January 2021 ((EPA))
A photo illustration shows the logo of Conservative social media application (app) Parler on a computer and mobile telephone screen, in Paris, France, on 11 January 2021 ((EPA))

Before he was removed from office and social media, Donald Trump’s private business had reportedly negotiated a deal with Parler, the social media platform popular among right-wing users and used by many during the Capitol riots last month.

The deal — which never fully materialised — offered the former president a 40 per cent stake in the company in exchange for his exclusive use of the platform, BuzzFeed News has reported.

Ethics experts have since raised concerns over the conversations, saying they may have violated anti-bribery laws as Mr Trump was still in the Oval Office when they occurred, according to the report. It remained unclear how involved the former president may have been in those discussions, which were reportedly organised by his former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, as well as a lawyer for the campaign, Alex Cannon.

Along with investors for the company, former Parler CEO John Matze met with Mr Trump’s aides last year to discuss the proposal: the former president would post his statements and content exclusively to the company’s social media site for four hours, before sharing that material across other platforms — with links going back to the original Parler content.

In statements to BuzzFeed News, Mr Parscale claimed the former president “was never part of the discussions” which he described as “never that substantive.”

He added: “This was just one of many things the campaign was looking into to deal with the cancel culture of Silicon Valley.”

Mr Parscale was removed from his post on the Trump campaign and effectively kicked out of the former president’s inner circle after falling out of his favour.

An adviser for the company also told BuzzFeed News the former president was not involved in the discussions and added: “We have spoken to several people about potential stakes in the company for producing certain things.”

Still, some groups suggested the discussions may have violated anti-bribery laws, even without the complete materialisation of a final deal or the direct involvement of the president, including the Project on Government Oversight.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan watchdog group, told the news outlet “courts have held that Trump’s social media posts constituted official business while he was in office.”

He added: “His posts were a preferred method for the White House to communicate with the public. If the offer included anything of value, and Trump planned to post on a social media platform while he was still in office, that would almost certainly be illegal, and he should be held accountable.”

Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted about the news: “Aside from all the other problems with this, the govt argued that Trump’s tweets were official issuances.”

He added: “Parler would’ve paid Trump to post official issuances on its platform. The corruption was bottomless. We need to demand major ethics reforms and strong ethical leadership.

Parler was removed from Amazon, Apple and Google’s app stores following the deadly Capitol riots, with officials from the major tech companies citing its failure to sufficiently address users’ posts containing threats of violence. The former CEO then argued in court filings the shutdown was done “in part on a desire to deny President Trump a platform” while claiming he had expressed an interest in joining the site.

Mr Trump was also removed from the vast majority of social media platforms following the riots, after he posted videos and messages during the insurrection in which he continued to promote false claims of a stolen election. The former president was impeached a second time by the House of Representatives for fomenting the insurrection.