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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.

Go deeper

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

Jan 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump’s final act as president: Pardoning Jeanine Pirro’s ex-husband

Outgoing President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump exit Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

With just over 30 minutes left in his presidency, President Trump issued a full pardon to Albert J. Pirro Jr., ex-husband of Fox News firebrand and Trump defender Jeanine Pirro.

Why it matters: This was Trump's final act as president, and he issued the pardon during Joe Biden's inauguration.

1 hour ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.