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Here’s Why the Bill Stepien Subpoena Is the Most Interesting of the New Batch

Until he joined Trumpworld in 2020, Stepien was seen (Bridgegate aside) as a generally respected data guy. How low did he sink?

Campaign manager Bill Stepien stands behind Donald Trump
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Campaign manager Bill Stepien stands behind Donald Trump as he speaks with reporters aboard Air Force One on August 28, 2020.

The new batch of subpoenas from the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol included some big names in Trumpworld: former national security adviser Mike Flynn; Jason Miller, the former president’s chief spokesman; former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik; and lawyer John Eastman of the now-infamous memo.

Lumped in with that bunch of Trumpian rogues is Bill Stepien, Trump’s final presidential campaign manager and, to that point, a generally respected veteran in Republican campaign consulting circles. When Stepien joined Trump’s reelection campaign, it was seen by most in the politics world as a rare moment of Trump hiring savvy and seriousness. This isn’t a campaign manager who fell into the role through previous unrelated jobs at the Trump Organization or had a decades-long dubious background or was a Goldman Sachs investment banker turned founding board member of the far-right Breitbart News website.

Rather, Stepien’s story is one of a political operative who rose through the ranks of small campaigns to large ones. His résumé ranges from being a driver for New Jersey Republican Bob Franks’s run for U.S. Senate in 2000 to managing Chris Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaign in the Garden State in 2009. He’s one of those low-visibility operatives who generally avoids publicity and embraces being known vaguely as a data guy. He’s more associated with the batch of Trump reelection campaign staffers who tried, amid the chaos Trump created, to make the campaign as professional as possible. He’s often described as an operative’s operative—a political foot soldier who just happens to find himself on the red team. New York magazine reported that Republicans describe him as “a professional guy who cared only about winning the election” rather than a fire-breathing MAGA-lover.

The one blemish on Stepien’s résumé—and it’s a pretty big one—is that he was caught up in the Bridgegate scandal, the 2013 affair when Christie aides ordered the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge solely to cause headaches for a political foe of the governor’s. Stepien was mentioned multiple times during the Bridgegate trial. He refused to work with investigators and invoked his Fifth Amendment right instead of complying with a subpoena. A review by a private law firm, run by a Republican who was a former aide to Rudy Giuliani, concluded that Stepien was aware of the lane closures, but it found “no evidence” that he knew of the political motivation.

Stepien hasn’t created much distance from himself and Trumpworld since the 2020 election. He and fellow Trump reelection alumni Justin Clark and Nick Trainer have restarted the National Public Affairs consulting shop with a partial mandate of helping Trump in his 2022 midterm agenda. The firm is representing some GOP candidates who have Trump’s backing and are trying to take out incumbents seen by Trumpworld as not loyal enough to Trump.

Federal Election Commission filings show payments from the campaign for Kelly Tshibaka, the Trump-endorsed Republican running to oust Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted to impeach Trump. There are also payments from the pro-Trump Make America Great Again PAC, the Trump-backed super PAC that succeeded his presidential campaign. There are also payments from Congressman Ronny Jackson’s Texas reelection campaign. Jackson, a former White House physician to the president who became Trump’s chief medical adviser, has also been endorsed by the former president.

In addition, the firm has advised Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s campaign for Senate in Arizona. Brnovich is in a divided primary where he and Blake Masters, an ally of Peter Thiel, are vying for Trump’s affections. Trump in the past has scolded Brnovich for not helping the controversial Arizona audit of the 2020 election results in the state. Another client, Congressman Jason Smith of Missouri, has publicized meeting with Trump.

The batch that includes Stepien focuses on Trump allies connected to a now-notorious “war room” in Washington’s Willard Hotel that Trump allies set up to coordinate overturning the 2020 election. The subpoenas order them to provide the committee documents and provide testimony. They all are reported to have discussed challenging the 2020 election results, but Stepien is also said to have been skeptical of the arguments Trump’s legal team—including Giuliani—were making. The committee has instructed them to provide testimony between November 30 and December 13.

“As manager of the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, you oversaw all aspects of the campaign. You then supervised the conversion of the Trump presidential campaign to an effort focused on ‘Stop the Steal’ messaging and related fundraising,” the subpoena letter to Stepien reads. “That messaging included promotion of certain false claims related to voting machines despite an internal campaign memo in which campaign staff determined that such claims were false.”

The letter goes on to say that the Stop the Steal “messaging was echoed by individuals who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to interfere with the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Additionally, the campaign reportedly urged state and party officials to affect the outcome of the November 2020 election by, among other things, asking states to delay or deny certification of electoral votes and by sending multiple slates of electoral votes to the United States Congress.”

It’s unclear whether Stepien will cooperate with the subpoena, but there’s ample reason to think he won’t. He didn’t cooperate with legislative subpoenas during Bridgegate, and of course all the Trump associates subpoenaed so far by the select committee have stonewalled it. He did not respond to a request from The New Republic seeking comment.

That Stepien finds himself here is both predictable and unpredictable. He did the dance that most elite political operatives have to do to get to the highest ranks within their field. But that also meant joining Trump’s orbit and all the risk that comes with it. He didn’t try to shed his Trumpian ties after the election, and the subpoenas are the latest indicator that he will always be tied with the other Trumpian Republicans under the committee’s microscope. That was the price Stepien, like many operatives, was willing to pay to take a prime leadership spot in the Republican Party during Trump’s reign.