Jan 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump pardons Bannon in final hours of presidency

Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

President Trump issued an eleventh-hour pardon to his former chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday night, sparing a longtime ally from a federal fraud prosecution over his alleged misappropriation of nonprofit funds.

Why it matters: Bannon was the most high-profile name on a White House list of dozens pardons and commutations, with hours remaining in Trump's presidency. His pardon of the former Breitbart News chief came as Bannon faced criminal charges stemming from a scheme to privately finance a southern border wall.

Background: Bannon was arrested last summer and charged with defrauding donors to the group We Build The Wall, which raised more than $20 million — largely from Trump supporters — to construct barriers on sections of the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Prosecutors accused Bannon and an alleged co-conspirator, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, of duping the effort’s financial backers with promises that they would not receive a dime of the funds raised.
  • In fact, prosecutors said, Bannon, Kolfage and others involved in the effort extracted millions ostensibly earmarked for border wall construction.
  • Bannon and Kolfage both pleaded not guilty.

Bannon is a longtime cheerleader for Trump’s brand of "populist nationalism," which he championed at Breitbart and subsequently as a senior aide on Trump’s 2016 campaign and in his West Wing.

  • Bannon and the president had a major falling out in late 2017, when Bannon was revealed to have leaked information to author Michael Wolff for his tell-all book on the Trump White House.
  • Trump and Bannon have reportedly been in contact in recent weeks regarding the president’s ill-fated legal efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Bannon's legal jeopardy may have expanded beyond the ongoing prosecution involving We Build The Wall.

  • The FBI was said to be probing Bannon's work with Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire with whom he's teamed up on a host of news and business ventures of late.
  • When Bannon was arrested in August, he was aboard Guo's 151-foot yacht in the Long Island Sound.
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