Steve Bannon charged with money laundering in wall-building scheme
Former US president Donald Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon has surrendered to face state money-laundering and conspiracy charges in New York alleging he duped donors who gave money to build a wall on the US/Mexico border.
Mr Bannon was scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors say that while Mr Bannon promised donors all the money they gave would go to building the wall, he was involved in funnelling hundreds of thousands of dollars to two other people involved in the scheme.
The indictment did not identify those people by name, but the details match those of Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in April.
Mr Bannon’s state-level charges in New York stem from the same alleged conduct as an attempted federal prosecution that ended abruptly, before trial, when Mr Trump pardoned Mr Bannon on his last day in office.
Manhattan prosecutors also charged WeBuildTheWall Inc, a nonprofit entity that Mr Bannon and others allegedly used to solicit donations.
Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offences. In Mr Bannon’s case, any double jeopardy argument would be likely to fall flat because his federal case did not involve an acquittal or conviction.
Mr Bannon, 68, arrived at the Manhattan district attorney’s office shortly after 9am on Thursday.
“This is an irony,” Mr Bannon told reporters as he entered the building.
“On the very day the mayor of this city has a delegation down on the border, they are persecuting people here, that try to stop them at the border,” he said, referring to a recent trip by New York City officials to Texas.
“This is all about 60 days from the day,” he said, referring to the upcoming national election in November.
In an earlier, written statement, Mr Bannon accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of pursing “phony charges” against him ahead of the midterm election, saying the Democratic prosecutor targeted him because Mr Bannon and his radio show are popular among Mr Trump’s Republican supporters.
Mr Bannon said federal prosecutors “did the exact same thing in August 2020 to try to take me out of the election”, referring to his arrest months before Mr Trump’s re-election loss.
“This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponisation of the criminal justice system,” he said.
Mr Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James planned a news conference to discuss the charges against Mr Bannon.
In 2020, federal agents pulled Mr Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him on charges that he pocketed more than one million US dollars in wall donations.
Prosecutors alleged that thousands of investors were tricked into thinking all of their donations would go towards the border wall project, although Mr Bannon instead paid a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.
Mr Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, was dropped from the federal case when Mr Trump pardoned him.
Kolfage and Badolato had been scheduled to be sentenced this week, but this hearing was recently postponed to December.
A third defendant’s trial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
In another case not covered by Mr Trump’s pardon, Mr Bannon was convicted in July on contempt charges for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October and faces up to two years in federal prison.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox