News & Politics

Trump Pardons Former Strategist Steve Bannon on Eve of Inauguration, Citing His 'Political Acumen'

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President Trump’s office released a list of individuals granted clemency or pardons by the president late Tuesday night. The list includes his former campaign manager and strategist, Steve Bannon. The White House announced in a statement that “President Donald J. Trump granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted the sentences of an additional 70 individuals.”

President Trump granted a full pardon to Stephen Bannon,” the statement explained. “Prosecutors pursued Mr. Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project. Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”

In August, Bannon, who is also the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, was arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court with fraud and money laundering related to a GoFundMe campaign for a group called “We Build the Wall.” He was arrested in August while aboard a $28 million yacht owned by a Chinese tech billionaire. Guo Wengui is himself under investigation by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to $300 million in private offerings last year.

According to the indictment:

Starting in approximately December 2018, BRIAN KOLFAGE, STEPHEN BANNON, ANDREW BADOLATO, and TIMOTHY SHEA, and others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as “We Build The Wall” that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.  In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, KOLFAGE repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that “100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose” because, as BANNON publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”

Those representations were false.  In truth, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.  In particular, KOLFAGE covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000 in funds that donors had given to We Build the Wall, while BANNON, through a non-profit organization under his control (“Non-Profit-1”), received over $1 million from We Build the Wall, at least some of which BANNON used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in BANNON’s personal expenses.  To conceal the payments to KOLFAGE from We Build the Wall, KOLFAGE, BANNON, BADOLATO, and SHEA devised a scheme to route those payments from We Build the Wall to KOLFAGE indirectly through Non-Profit-1 and a shell company under SHEA’s control, among other avenues.  They did so by using fake invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as KOLFAGE noted in a text message to BADOLATO, that his pay arrangement remained “confidential” and kept on a “need to know” basis.

While the White House gave compelling reasons for the other pardons on the list—citing things like the individuals’ remorse or statements of support from law enforcement—Bannon’s pardon simply cites his political skills and role in leading the conservative movement.

I Worked With Steve Bannon. I Don’t Want to Believe the Wire Fraud Charges

Bannon is largely credited with saving Trump’s 2016 campaign for president, stepping into the role of campaign manager just 88 days before the election. He later became the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. He left that position a year later.

In 2018, Trump and Bannon reportedly became estranged after Michael Wolff’s controversial book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, was published. Wolff quoted Bannon as saying Ivanka Trump was “dumb as a brick.” In a 2019 book, Wolff accused Trump of running a “semi-criminal enterprise.” According to Wolf, Bannon confirmed that characterization, saying, “I think we can drop the ‘semi’ part.” In relation to investigations into Trump’s finances, Bannon reportedly said, “This is where it isn’t a witch hunt – even for the hardcore, this is where he turns into just a crooked business guy, and one worth $50 million instead of $10 billion. Not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.”

After Fire and Fury was published, Trump began attacking Bannon in interviews and on Twitter, calling him “Sloppy Steve.” Trump said his former strategist had “lost his mind” when he left the White House” and had “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”

In 2019 the two appeared to have resolved their differences. Bannon praised Trump as a “great leader as president” and “amazing campaigner” and Trump called Bannon “one of my best pupils” and “still a giant Trump fan”

Since then, Bannon has been hosting a podcast called “War Room,” which Trump reportedly watches. The show was recently banned by YouTube.

Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard.

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