Washington (CNN)Before Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were enemies, they were allies. And not long before that, Bannon was part of an effort to sink Trump’s presidential hopes — even if Trump didn’t know it.
A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.
The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years.
The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump’s campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group’s chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump’s rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.
In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge.
The document offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes efforts by conservatives to derail Trump’s presidential bid. The document is similar to opposition research produced for both Republicans and Democrats targeting Trump. The…