As Mitt Romney tries to keep the final days of the presidential race focused on the economy, a former CIA station chief is accusing one of Romney's aides of waging an intense, personal e-mail campaign against him.
The skirmish is the latest flare-up in a running battle between the former CIA officer, Michael Scheuer, and the Romney aide, Gabriel Schoenfeld — and one that reflects deeper rifts over foreign policy on the right. Schoenfeld is part of a contingent of hawkish neoconservative thinkers around Romney; while Scheuer is a vocal critic of the interventionism championed by George W. Bush.
Schoenfeld has been campaigning against Scheuer at least since 2007, when he accused him of anti-Semitism and "nuttiness," and urged the mainstream and conservative media to stop relying on him as an expert source. Scheuer, for his part, has dismissed Schoenfeld as a “reliable Israel-firster" bent on entangling the U.S. in the Middle East on Israel's account.
The feud bubbled back up last week when Scheuer — in emails to the campaign, shared with this reporter — accused Schoenfeld of orchestrating an aggressive campaign to "defame" and discredit him, by convincing his employers that he's an anti-Semite.
Schoenfeld's campaign past campaign against Scheuer — based in large part on Scheuer's criticism of the U.S.-Israel alliance — had, Scheuer believes, gotten him fired from the Jamestown Foundation and banned from CNN. This time, Scheuer complained, e-mails have been sent to Fox News, where Scheuer often appears as a guest, and Georgetown University, where he works, demanding that he be fired for his "anti-semitic hysterics."
One e-mail, sent to Fox News by an "M. Gilbert," read:
Michael Scheuer, who recently appeared on your program, receives high praise from David Duke [links below], the notorious former klansman and bigot, racist and anti-Semite, for Scheuer’s anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing tirades. What were you thinking in having Scheuer on your show?
Other e-mails asserted that Scheuer had a "psychiatric disorder," and cited The Weekly Standard's William Kristol as someone who has "documented his sickness."
None of the e-mails appeared to come from Schoenfeld, but several made reference to him, implying to Scheuer that the writers were in contact with him.
Scheuer, who ran the CIA project targeting Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, responded by e-mailing senior Romney campaign official Kevin Madden — and copying BuzzFeed — to ask whether the candidate approved of one of its employees waging such a campaign. When he didn't hear back, he sent another, more forceful e-mail.
"As they say, silence connotes consent, so if I do not hear from you I must assume that the participation of Mr. Schoenfeld in a campaign to deny me employment and a voice in America’s debate on foreign policy has the consent of Governor Romney and his advisers," Scheuer wrote.
Madden responded, "Mr. Scheuer: I know nothing about this. I’m also not sure why the inquiry would be directed to me."
Schoenfeld did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Madden did not respond either.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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