Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Trump, was arrested today with three other suspects after the Justice Department charged fraud connected to an online fundraising campaign worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The campaign, “We Build the Wall,” was said to have raised over $25 million. It is worth noting that the Justice Department has continued to investigate or prosecute various Trump supporters under Attorney General Bill Barr despite calls by Democratic members and commentators to impeach him.
Manhattan federal prosecutors allege that Bannon, campaign leader Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.” Notably, the complaint states that Kolfage publicly guaranteed that he would not take salary or compensation, and that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall. Prosecutors allege that he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use and then tried to conceal it. As for Bannon, he is accused of receiving $1 million of the money, including use for personal expenses.
This is the type of criminal charge that is the most challenging for defense attorneys. Jurors react badly to allegations of pilfering public interest funds and items of personal expense tend to look even more extravagant when juxtaposed against a public funding campaign.
The four defendants each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries up to 20 years in prison.
Notably, this case comes out of the Southern District which critics alleged would be stopped from pursuing Trump-related cases after Barr replaced U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. As with the Lafayette Park account in the media, many of the “facts” on the action against Berman were later contradicted. That certainly will continue to be debated in good-faith by people. However, these charges show that the work of the office has continued as promised by Barr in an independent fashion.
While the indictment shows that the Justice Department is still proceeding unheeded by politics, it also shows a disturbing pattern of criminality among close political advisers to the President with criminal convictions or charges for Bannon, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, and others. That unquestionably raises questions about the President’s judgment and what he is looking for in advisers. Manafort and Stone are the best examples of individuals who had questionable reputations before the 2016 campaign.
Here is the indictment: Bannon complaint