After Being Threatened With Lawsuit, Robert Pittenger Says Statements About Dan Bishop Were False
Former 9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger sent an email to supporters Tuesday where he endorsed Matthew Ridenhour in the upcoming special election — and also criticized State Sen. Dan Bishop, saying the Republican was "clearly aware" of Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless' "fraudulent activities."The email said Bishop is "not a good choice" for the seat.
Pittenger, a Republican, wrote that Bishop was a "primary advisor to the Mark Harris campaign and integrally involved as a speaker and with campaign strategy and execution. Bishop, an attorney and litigator, clearly had knowledge of McCrae Dowless' fraudulent activities," Pittenger wrote.
That touched off an extraordinary back-and-forth between the two men, who are two of Charlotte's most prominent Republicans.
Bishop sent Pittenger a letter demanding that he withdraw those statements within 30 minutes. He wrote on Twitter Tuesday evening that Pittenger "defamed me today. He will retract his false statements or be sued."
After that, Pittenger sent an e-mail to Bishop and members of the media in which he said "the statements regarding Dan Bishop were false."
Bishop gave $1,000 to Harris in 2017, according to opensecrets.org, which compiles databases of campaign finance reports for federal candidates.
But Bishop's name never came up during the four-day North Carolina Board of Elections hearing into fraud allegations in the 9th Distict.
And Jason Williams, Harris' former campaign manager, told WFAE Tuesday that Bishop had "no role in the Harris campaign."
"We were fortunate to have the endorsement of Senator Bishop in our campaign, just as we were fortunate to have the endorsement of Congressman Robert Pittenger," Williams said. "But Senator Bishop was certainly not involved in any type of advisory capacity or any type of strategic level or anything like that."
Pittinger also criticized Bishop for "poorly" communicating House Bill 2, which Bishop sponsored in 2016. That bill nullified parts of Charlotte's expanded non-discrimination ordinance that gave legal protections to the LGBTQ community.
Pittenger wrote that Bishop's messaging on HB2 created "unnecessary backlash with significant economic and job loss to the state."
Harris defeated Pittenger, who was then the incumbent, in the May 2018 Republican primary, and then appeared to narrowly defeat Democrat Dan McCready in the November general election by 905 votes.
But the N.C. Board of Elections in February ordered a new election in the 9th District after board investigators said Dowless ran an illegal absentee mail ballot scheme to help Harris in the primary and general election.
Pittenger told WFAE earlier this year that he met with Dowless about working on his campaign — but decided against it.
"Well, anytime somebody is sitting down with you, (and) they say, 'Pay me and I'll go get you some votes,'" Pittetnger said in that January interview, "[It] becomes very clear that's not a direction I want to be in."
Pittenger added, "our meeting ended pretty abruptly and he found someone else to go help. So that was in 2016... Mark Harris then hired him."
In the elections board hearing, Mark Harris' son, John Harris, testified that he repeatedly told his father not to hire Dowless as he was preparing to challenge Pittenger again in 2018. John Harris said he told Mark Harris that he believed Dowless was illegally collecting mail ballots.
After Mark Harris announced he would not run in the special election, he endorsed Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing in the election. Rushing is a staunch defender of Harris, and has questioned whether illegall ballot harvesting occured.
Pittenger's email said Ridenhour, a former Mecklenburg County commissioner, would be a good opponent against McCready because he has business experience and is a former Marine. McCready is also a former Marine, and has made that the centerpiece of his campaign.
The final paragraph of Pittenger's email also criticized McCready.
"McCready’s independent “country before party” would last about a week in Congress, when he realizes he won’t receive Committee assignments, future campaign funding, international travel or considered for leadership posts," Pittenger wrote. "(House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) reins in all the 'would be independents' and they vote lock step supporting the left agenda. Good campaign rhetoric for those gullible enough to believe it."
Pittenger said earlier this year he wouldn't run again for his old 9th District seat.