Did the Son of the NRA-Connected Private Spy Lose His Job Because of Mom?


Is Sean McFate the first casualty of Gun-gate?

Sean McFate is the son of Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate), the NRA-connected private spy who infiltrated the gun control movement for about 15 years. Her tale was first disclosed by Mother Jones last week. That article noted that Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper, and his wife, Montgomery McFate, a controversial Pentagon adviser, had once both worked for Mary Lou Sapone’s business, which specialized, according to an old version of Montgomery’s resume, in “domestic and internal opposition research” and “special investigations.” Sean and Montgomery McFate might also have been involved in Mary Lou Sapone’s penetration of the gun control community.

More recently, Sean McFate was program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. That is, he was until the appearance of the Mother Jones story on his mother.

As that story was being posted last week, McFate was listed on BPC’s staff list on its website. Days later, his name was gone.

Asked about McFate’s fate, the BPC issued this statement:

Prior to the publication of the recent Mother Jones article, Sean McFate resigned from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) to pursue a different professional project. The BPC was unaware of any allegations regarding the activities of Sean’s family members and never had any reason to believe that Sean was involved in any questionable behavior.

The timing of the Mother Jones article was purely coincidental, and was in no way related to Sean’s resignation. We wish him well as he pursues his professional interests.

A coincidence? Perhaps. But McFate, as noted above, was on the staff list until after the story hit. Moreover, after Mother Jones had contacted McFate for the story but before the article was posted, his title on the BPC website changed. Twice. He went from being listed as a program director to being described as a consultant to again being listed as a program director–all within a few days. Why the back and forth? (McFate refused to talk to Mother Jones about his mother or his work with her.)

It could be that Sean McFate’s departure from the BPC was no more than a case of odd timing. But would the BPC–which works to develop “solutions that can attract the public support and political momentum to achieve real progress” and which happens to be located one floor below the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s most prominent gun control organization (which McFate tried to penetrate)–want on its staff a fellow linked to an undercover operation that targeted a neighbor? And the work of Mary Lou Sapone was hardly in the spirit of bipartisanship. It’s not surprising that Sean McFate picked this moment to move on.

Meanwhile, the NRA has yet to respond to the exposure of Mary Lou Sapone’s snooping. Nor has she. After the story came out, Mary Lou Sapone skedaddled to Belize and has not replied to requests from various news organizations.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.