Hasan Harnett Vs. The NCGOP
This Saturday, the North Carolina Republican Party will hold an unusual vote, whether or not to expel their current chairman.
Hasan Harnett has been in the post less than a year. His election last June was historic, he’s the first African-American to lead the state Republican Party. Harnett’s election and tenure have featured the same infighting taking place nationally, grass roots Republicans vs. the establishment. But this story also includes claims of illegal activity, witch hunts and racism.
These days, when Hassan Harnett speaks to his fellow Republicans, he sounds like a TV pitchman. He begins his latest video statement, posted last week, by saying "Infighting, backstabbing and bickering. Aren’t you sick of it? I know I sure am." And Harnett is selling something, his future in the party.
Some top Republican leaders want him out. Like Scott Cumbie who says Harnett "is at war with the staff and the party as a whole." And Claude Pope who believes the chairman has "got to learn how to lead."
Both Pope and Cumbie are members of the powerful NCGOP Central Committee, which has already voted to essentially lock Harnett out of party business. Harnett remains defiant. "Let me be clear," he states in a raised voice, "I am not going to resign! I am not going to sit down and shut up."
At his home, not far from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hassan Harnett’s tone is more measured. "You don’t have to like me as a person," he states, "but I am the chairman and people ought to respect that."
Tall with broad shoulders and a shaved head, he smiles when he thinks back on the election which elevated him from relative unknown to chairman of the state Republican party. He took advantage of what seems a common refrain for Republicans, "The grass roots constantly are saying no one is listening to us, so there is a little schism between the grass roots and those who are on the inside."
Harnett courted those grass roots, and they rallied around him.
He marked his election with a drum line, shaking up the usually staid state convention. It energized the crowd but did nothing to calm the nerves of Republican brass and some big donors. "They made decisions to move money from certain accounts and redirect it to somewhere else," says the embattled chairman, "perhaps because of lack of trust or concern or just not knowing who I was as a person."
And that was as close as it came to a honeymoon period. The bumps in the road came quickly says Scott Cumbie. "There had been problems in the fall and throughout the first of the year that we’ve dealt with and we’ve moved on from it." But for Harnett, those problems were adding up. "The more established side of the party had their doubts and uncertainty."
He says he wasn’t given access to party accounts, databases, final say in press releases and more, "there have been occasions where some form of insubordination has been going on."
Especially when it came to one staff member in particular, Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the NCGOP. He’s a paid staffer in charge of running the daily business of the party.
Woodhouse is white. Harnett is black.
A point made pertinent by an email Harnett sent to Woodhouse which reads in part:
I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black chairman of the NCGOP State Party through? Or is it because I am not white enough for you?
That note was sent on March 8 from Harnett’s personal email account. The day before his state GOP email account had been disabled, so too was the account for his vice chair.
Harnett says he contacted the party office to find out what was going on. He got no answers. So he called the company that runs the NCGOP email system. And he recorded that call.
Operator: Hassan? Harnett: Ah, yes ma'am Operator: We would need you to call Greg and talk to Greg about that because he had us suspend your account yesterday. Harnett: Ah, do you know the reason for that? Operator: I don't. We only do what he says.
Greg, would be Greg Fornshell, the accounting director. He works for Dallas Woodhouse.
Woodhouse did not respond to our interview requests.
But on March 9, Woodhouse did send an email, from his NCGOP account. Harnett is a bit incredulous as he reads the email, "This says the NCGOP is dealing with a significant security issue. Many people on this system had their email turned off to protect the system while we handle this." Harnett doesn’t buy that excuse. "Obviously, if there was some kind of major security sweep or major issue going on, you would think the chairman would be contacted." Harnett says he never was.
Other Republicans were contacted by Dallas Woodhouse. Including Dr. Ada Fisher, who, like Harnett, is on the NCGOP’s Central Committee. "I got a call from the executive director saying that there was some concern that the party website may be subject to a cyber-attack." Fisher urged the party to contact the FBI to launch an investigation.
Instead, the party launched an internal investigation, headed by its General Counsel Tom Stark. And the key witness came directly to him. A man named Ken Robol, an IT professor at Pitt Community College south of Greenville.
Neither Tom Stark or Ken Robol responded to our interview requests. But Stark has made public an affidavit by Robol.
In it Robol says he called Harnett on March 8, "Mr. Harnett told me he had been ‘locked out’ of the North Carolina website.” And Robol says, “I told there were three ways to get in.” The first two involved a password or a file manager.
The final was brought up by Robol himself, a brute force attack on the NCGOP’s website, a computer hack that can crash or damage a system.
This, Robol says in the affidavit, is was what Harnett preferred.
And, Robol added, he was asked to set up an alternative website specifically to sell tickets to the party’s state convention. The price for each would be $45, half of what the central committee had approved.
Harnett admits he talked to Robol but denies the rest.
Tom Bullock: Did you ask him to create a website that showed a lower convention fee? HH: No. TB: Did you ever ask him to directly hack the site? HH: I did not. TB: Did he bring up hacking the site? HH: Yes. TB: Why do you think he brought up hacking the site? HH: This is a set up.
And there is an inconsistency in the timeline.
In a letter released publicly, NCGOP General Council Tom Stark notes that he advised emails be shut down after hearing about the alleged hack. But Robol did not contact Harnett until after the email was shut down.
Harnett says this is all part of a witch hunt against him. It’s a claim the NCGOP denies. As does Claude Pope, who proceeded Harnett as chairman. "His success in that role would have helped all Republicans. And it was profoundly disappointing to me that that didn’t happen."
Plus, there’s this:
Harnett did want to cut or eliminate the fees for tickets to the state convention. In fact, he campaigned on it. Calling them a modern day poll tax.
And even after the Central Committee voted to charge $90 a ticket for the May convention, Harnett sent out a notice the fee would be $45.
All this lead to Harnett being censured by the central committee last month.
Hassan Harnett has run for just one political post, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. Now, he says, "I understand what it means to be in politics."
On Saturday, at a meeting just recently added to the calendar, the party’s executive committee will decide if he keeps that title.