Turmoil: AOC’s chief of staff and spokesman both leaving her congressional office

What’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going to use for brains now that her brain trust is leaving her congressional office?  Saikat Chakrabarti, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur who recruited Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress and who became her chief of staff and Svengali, is leaving her office, it was revealed Friday. Also departing her congressional payroll is her Communications Director, Corbin Trent.

The news was first revealed to the leftwing site The Intercept. Akela Lacy writes:

Saikat Chakrabarti, her chief of staff, and Corbin Trent, her director of communications — who, through their work with Justice Democrats, have been alongside Ocasio-Cortez since her primary run — will leave the lawmaker’s office. Chakrabarti will go to New Consensus, a nonprofit focused on climate issues and promoting the Green New Deal. Trent will direct communications on Ocasio-Cortez’s 2020 campaign, the same role he played during her first congressional run.

“Saikat has decided to leave the office of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to work with New Consensus to further develop plans for a Green New Deal,” Trent said in a statement to The Intercept. “We are extraordinarily grateful for his service to advance a bold agenda and improve the lives of the people in NY-14. From his co-founding of Justice Democrats to his work on the Ocasio-Cortez campaign and in the official office, Saikat’s goal has always been to do whatever he can to help the larger progressive movement, and we look forward to continuing working with him to do just that.”

Chakrabarti wearing a t-shirt picturing Subhash Chandra Bose, an advocate for Indian independence from Britain, who allied with Hitler and the Japanese during WWII.

YouTube screen grab

Recall that Chakrabarti and his Justice Democrats colleagues held auditions for promising candidates to run against moderate Democrat incumbents in deep blue districts, reportedly screening a thousand people and finding Ocasio-Cortez and others. Seven of the candidates backed by the group won seats on the House:  Raúl GrijalvaRo KhannaAyanna PressleyRashida TlaibIlhan OmarAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Pramila Jayapal.

A happy face is being painted on the departures, but both men have generated controversy and anger. Trent, who will work for Ocasio-Cortez but on the re-election campaign’s payroll, dropped an f-bomb six weeks ago when a potential 2020 GOP challenger wanted to debate AOC: ““Yo @RichValdes what in the actual f–k makes you think you’re entitled to a debate with AOC,” spokesman Corbin Trent tweeted… at the conservative talk radio producer who’s mulling a run against the freshman congresswoman.”

Chakabarti, however has generated far more controversy – The New York Times called him a “symbol of Democratic division” -- and will not have any explicit ties to Ocasio-Cortez in his new role. He both managed to anger Speaker Pelosi and moderate House Democrats, and he also gave away the game on the Green New Deal. On that latter point, The Washington Examiner reported on July 11:

The chief of staff for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that her signature Green New Deal was not really about saving the planet after all.

In a report by the Washington Post, Saikat Chakrabarti revealed that "it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all ... we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing."

The revelation came during a conversation with Sam Ricketts, climate director for presidential candidate Jay Inslee. Chakrabarti further told Ricketts of the Green New Deal, "I think ... it’s dual. It is both rising to the challenge that is existential around climate and it is building an economy that contains more prosperity. More sustainability in that prosperity — and more broadly shared prosperity, equitability and justice throughout."

Chakrabarti has been responsible for positioning Ocasio-Cortez against the Speaker and moderate Democrats. Bill Sanderson of the NY Daily News summarized:

Chakrabarti, 33, angered some of Ocasio-Cortez’s colleagues early in July when he took to Twitter to compare moderate Democrats to southern segregationists.

“Instead of ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal,’ let’s call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the ‘New Southern Democrats,’ ” Chakrabarti wrote in a tweet that is now deleted. “They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.”

Chakrabarti made a veiled allegation of racism against Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) after she voted in late June for a bipartisan bill to appropriate money to government operations on the southern border. Chakrabarti said of Davids: “Her votes are showing her to enable a racist system.”

That drew a sharp rebuke from the official House Democrats’ Twitter account, which is managed by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn): “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?”

That tweet has been deleted too.

The feud led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to rebuke Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive House Democrats. “You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK,” Pelosi reportedly said.

I am among many people who believe that Chakrabarti has functioned as a puppet master for AOC, guiding her positions and moves, and even telling her what to say on critical issues. With his departure, we’ll see if there are any changes in her behavior.

It is unclear if the departures are related to three Federal Election Commission complaints alleging financial wrongdoing. The New York Post explains:

The finances surrounding Justice Democrats have also generated bad press. The group attracted three Federal Election Commission complaints filed by conservative groups because of an odd setup in which money from the PAC flowed into two limited liability companies controlled by Chakrabarti.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t require Chakrabarti nor Trent to disclose their personal finances. Members can designate any member of their staff a “principal assistant” forcing them to file forms annual financial disclosure forms.

More details on one of the complaints were provided by Greg Re of Fox News last March:

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Saikat Chakrabarti, the progressive firebrand's multimillionaire chief of staff, apparently violated campaign finance law by funneling nearly $1 million in contributions from political action committees Chakrabarti established to private companies that he also controlled, according to an explosive complaint filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and obtained by Fox News.

Amid the allegations, a former FEC commissioner late Monday suggested in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation that Ocasio-Cortez and her team could separately be facing major fines and potentially even jail time if they were knowingly and willfully violating the law by hiding their control of the Justice Democrats political action committee (PAC). Such an arrangement could have allowed Ocasio-Cortez's campaign to receive donations in excess of the normal limit, by pooling contributions to both the PAC and the campaign itself.

The FEC complaint asserts that Chakrabarti established two PACs, the Brand New Congress PAC and Justice Democrats PAC, and then systematically transferred more than $885,000 in contributions received by those PACs to the Brand New Campaign LLC and the Brand New Congress LLC -- companies that, unlike PACs, are exempt from reporting all of their significant expenditures. The PACs claimed the payments were for "strategic consulting."

Although large financial transfers from PACs to LLCs are not necessarily improper, the complaint argues that the goal of the "extensive" scheme was seemingly to illegally dodge detailed legal reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which are designed to track campaign expenditures. This story has more chapters coming.