On January 20, 2021, in one of his last acts as the worst president in US history, Donald Trump pardoned former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who, several months prior, had been charged with defrauding donors of a crowdfunding campaign to build the southern border wall Trump had famously promised Mexico was going to pay for. Given the 40 years Bannon could have spent in prison if found guilty on both counts—conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering—this was clearly a lucky turn of events for the guy. Less lucky was the fact that Bannon’s former boss only had the power to issue pardons for federal crimes. Meaning he couldn’t prevent what happened today, which was Bannon being indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office for the same alleged scam.
On Thursday, the Trump ally surrendered and pleaded not guilty to allegedly scamming people who’d, inexplicably, forked over a collective $25 million-plus of their own money to build the wall. Prosecutors charged him with two felony counts of money laundering, two felony counts of conspiracy, one felony count of scheming to defraud, and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy. His corporation, “We Build the Wall Inc.,” was also charged. “Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country—including hundreds of Manhattan residents,” district attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. New York attorney general Letitia James, whose office worked with Bragg’s on the investigation, said Bannon had taken “advantage of his donors’ political views to secure millions of dollars which he then misappropriated,” adding that he’d “lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends.”
According to the indictment, Bannon and his coconspirators secretly siphoned off donations to We Build the Wall’s president, Brian Kolfage, who had said he wouldn’t take a salary. (Kolfage was not charged by Manhattan prosecutors; he pleaded guilty to federal charges earlier this year.) “All the money you give goes to building the wall,” Bannon told donors at a fundraising event in 2019, the indictment alleges. In the federal case, prosecutors also charged Bannon of using $1 million of donations for personal expenses.
In a statement issued this week, Bannon called the state charges “phony,” and claimed: “This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system.” On Thursday, he told reporters waiting outside the courtroom: “This is what happens in the last days of a dying regime. They will never shut me up, they’ll have to kill me first. I have not yet begun to fight.”
The wall business, of course, is not the only legal issue facing Bannon. In November 2021, he was indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the January 6 committee, and found guilty this past summer. His sentencing is scheduled for October.