Steele ‘punked’ by blogger posing as GOP donor

Holly Bailey

It might be a good idea for Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele to start screening his calls.

Last week, the embattled GOP chairman took a call at his home from someone he thought was a prospective GOP donor and, during the conversation, dismissed the idea that former Sen. Norm Coleman might be after his job. "Norm is an old friend. Norm is not going to challenge me for RNC chairman," Steele said. "If he does, I'll put my record up against anyone who comes after me."

The only thing is: Steele wasn't talking to a donor. He was talking to conservative blogger Evan Gahr, who was pretending to be a donor and who later published the conversation on his site. (He calls himself Washington Gadfly.)

This faux pas is not nearly as bad as Sarah Palin's flub in 2008, when she chatted up a comedian pretending to be French president Nicolas Sarkozy. But it's still pretty embarrassing, considering Steele has been deliberately trying to keep a low profile amid recent drama at the RNC. Fueling the committee's latest turmoil are Steele's  flub suggesting the war in Afghanistan was not winnable and accusations from the party's treasurer that Steele and his staff have been hiding big debts and not meeting fundraising goals. And there's still lingering fallout within the party from the scandal that broke in the spring, when it came to light that an RNC staffer organized a donors' outing to  a bondage-themed nightclub in West Hollywood — an event Steele says he didn't know anything about.

[RNC treasurer: Steele hid $7 million in debt]

Steele's problems have prompted donors to reroute their checks to other party committees ahead of the midterm elections. Last month, Coleman began quietly plotting a bid to challenge Steele for RNC chair after the campaign. That's something Steele has refused to comment publicly on — until now, anyway.

According to Gahr's account, Steele did try to protect himself, a little. Upon answering the phone, Steele initially pretended to be someone else and offered to take a message. "It sounds just like him," Gahr replied. Steele laughed and asked whom he was speaking with. Gahr identified himself as "Bertram," a hedge-fund employee who wanted to donate but didn't want his money "going to strippers and that kind of thing."

"That's crazy," Steele replied. "That was a staffer who got fired as soon as I heard about it. ... Not one dollar goes to that type of activity."

[Photos: Latest images of Michael Steele]

During the conversation, Steele defended his RNC tenure, bragging that his won-lost record in recent elections is better than that of any other party chair in history. But Gahr pressed him on the party's spending and controversies. He asked Steele if he's getting a pass because he's black. "Howard Dean went through a lot," Steele replied. "People thought he said some sh*t and done [sic] some embarrassing things."

When Gahr revealed he wasn't a donor but a "reporter," Steele said it wasn't ethical for him to have not revealed his true identity.

"If I did, you wouldn't have talked to me," Gahr told him.

"That's probably true, because I'm not doing any interviews," Steele replied. "Activists call all the time. They don't try to sneak an interview. That is not kosher."

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