Steve Bannon, yet another name added in the arrest files after a significant number of other public as well as political figures attached to the Trump administration have previously been arrested on multiple counts, including his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen and Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
And now, Steve Bannon,66, former senior advisor to president Trump has been charged in an indictment along with three others, namely, Brian Kolfage, 38, an Air Force veteran from Florida, Andrew Badolato, 56, a financier also from Florida and Timothy Shea, 49, of Colorado.
They have been accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a $25 million crowdfunding campaign called ‘We Build the Wall’ as a scheme to help build the president’s signature wall along the US-Mexico border.
Steve Bannon’s arrest reminds me of something I learned as a U.S. Attorney and Asst. U.S. Attorney General prosecuting corruption: Rarely, if ever, is an ethical, innocent public official surrounded by criminal associates. @realDonaldTrump? He’s running out of associates.
— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) August 20, 2020
Who are they?
The infamous entrepreneur headed the right-wing Breitbart News website and also co-founded Cambridge Analytica, (a British political consulting firm which was later found to have illegally acquired the personal data of millions of Facebook users), he then joined the trump administration where he was not only an architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory but also served as a top advisor to Trump’s presidential campaign who later served as White House chief strategist, he also helped articulate the “America First” right-wing
populism and fierce opposition to immigration that have been hallmarks of Trump’s 3-1/2 years in office. He then left the White House in August 2017.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Kolfage, described as the public face and founder of the operation, formerly ran a company that made millions of dollars running right-wing media websites. In the current operation he pledged to send donations to the U.S. government when he launched the wall effort in December 2018, but then said he would use the money to hire private contractors and build the wall on their own.
What did they do?
To quote, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss , “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 pretence that all of that money would be spent on construction’, While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” the US attorney added.
According to prosecutors, Bannon, received $1 million (€840,000) from the online fundraising campaign through a non-profit organisation under his control, hundreds of thousands of which were used to cover his personal expenses, while, Brian Kolfage, also received $350,000 in funds for his personal use.
According to a report published last month , the group tied to Bannon built two wall sections on private land in New Mexico and Texas, drawing criticism from local residents who said proper permits were not obtained.
What are their charges?
The men are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Bannon’s lawyer entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. He was freed on a
$5 million bond and barred by a federal magistrate judge from travelling
internationally. Shea and Badolato were released on bond. Kolfage’s status was unclear.
President Trump’s comment on the incident
Trump told reporters at the White House that he felt “very badly” about the charges, but sought to distance himself from Bannon and the alleged scheme.
“I do think it’s a sad event,” Trump said. “I haven’t dealt with him at all now for years, literally years.”
“I know nothing about the project,” Trump said on Thursday, “other than … when I read about it, I didn’t like it. I said, ‘This is for government, this isn’t for private people,’ and it sounded to me like showboating.”
Also important to mention, Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign said corruption surrounds Trump and also that, “He has consistently used his office to enrich himself, his family and his cronies, so is it really any surprise that yet another one of the grifters he surrounded himself with and placed in the highest levels of government was just indicted?”
Since its commencement, the Trump administration has been grilled time and again on such accusations and questions, however recent developments will hold crucial for the current election campaign and can cause some serious damage.