Updated Aug 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Steve Bannon pleads not guilty to fraud charges

Former Trump administration chief strategist Steve Bannon pleaded not guilty on Thursday after being indicted and taken into custody in New York on federal fraud charges.

The latest: A federal judge agreed to release Bannon on a $5 million bond. His travel will be restricted to the New York and Washington, D.C. areas, and he will not be allowed to use private jets or boats without permission.

The state of play: Bannon, along with three others, allegedly defrauded donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own profit with a crowdfunding campaign called "We Build the Wall" that raked in over $25 million.

  • The indictment says that Bannon, via a non-profit, took in over $1 million from the scheme "and at least some of it was used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in [his] personal expenses."
  • Bannon's co-conspirators are Brian Kolfage, who served as the organization's founder and president, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea.
  • Kolfage deleted the organization's GoFundMe page on Wednesday, alleging that the platform was engaged in "censorship" after it shut down another of his campaigns centered on suing Black Lives Matter.

Why it matters: Bannon's indictment makes him the sixth person linked to the senior leadership of the 2016 Trump campaign to be hit with federal charges.

  • The others are Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen — all of whom faced indictments under the Mueller investigation.
  • A lower-level campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, was also charged.

The big picture: According to its website, We Build the Wall's says it "will focus on building portions of a U.S. Southern Border wall and manage the support operations required for, and the processes associated with, the design, engineering, construction, and maintenance of the wall."

  • The indictment says that the organization did indeed spend money on a border wall but alleges that "hundreds of thousands of dollars were siphoned ... for the personal use and benefit" of the defendants.
  • They allegedly used the money "for a variety of personal expenses, including, among other things, travel, hotel, consumer goods and personal credit card debts." Kolfage specifically allegedly used his share for "home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt."

What they're saying: "As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction," acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

  • "This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist," added Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett.

Behind the scenes: Bannon was taken into custody aboard the Lady May, a 152-foot yacht (listing price: $27.9 million) off the Connecticut coast.

Trump distanced himself from his former aide while speaking to reporters at the White House, but said he feels "very badly" for Bannon.

  • "[H]e was involved ... in our campaign, and for a small part of the administration, very early on. I haven’t been dealing with him at all."
  • "I don’t know that he was in charge. I didn’t know any of the other people either."

Read the indictment.

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