Judge says Steve Bannon siphoned $1m from ‘build the wall’ campaign while dismissing indictment

He was accused of pocketing more than $1 million from ‘We Build the Wall funds

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 26 May 2021 11:55
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<p>Then-chief strategist under Trump administration Stephen Bannon was issued last minute pardon</p>

Then-chief strategist under Trump administration Stephen Bannon was issued last minute pardon

A federal judge formally dismissed an indictment against Stephen Bannon in light of his presidential pardon, but noted that Donald Trump’s former adviser allegedly took more than $1 million of the funds from people who thought they were donating to the US-Mexico border wall campaign.

US District Judge Analisa Torres’s order ended months of legal haggling but a state probe over “We Build The Wall” fundraising scheme still looms.

"By October 2019... Bannon and the other defendants received hundreds of thousands of dollars each, which they used on personal expenses such as travel, hotels, and personal credit card debt," the order said.

Mr Bannon was arrested and charged with three others in August last year in what is called massive fundraising and money laundering fraud for their role in “We Build The Wall,” a private campaign to raise funds to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Hundreds of thousands of people donated to the campaign, which raised more than $25m after being endorsed by allies of Mr Trump. The organisers of the campaign, along with Mr Bannon — the chief strategist of the Trump administration — allegedly defrauded their donors under the garb that money was being used for construction.

Mr Trump then issued a “full and unconditional pardon” to Mr Bannon in January on his last day in the White House, five months after he was arrested.

While Judge Torres granted his application, saying “dismissal of the indictment is the proper course” of former president’s pardon, but detailed his alleged role in the scheme.

She said “pardon implies guit,” quoting a New Jersey court from 1833.

“If there be no guilt, there is no ground for forgiveness. … A party is acquitted on the ground of innocence; he is pardoned through favour,” noted Judge Torres.

Conservative activist Brian Kolfage, who founded the “We Build the Wall” campaign, was recently indicted in a separate case on tax fraud charges.

The judge wrote granting pardon: “Of course, ‘a pardon does not, standing alone, render [a defendant] innocent of the alleged . . . violation,” and noted that pardons do not “blot out probable cause of guilt.”

“To the contrary, from the country’s earliest days, courts, including the Supreme Court, have acknowledged that even if there is no formal admission of guilt, the issuance of a pardon may ‘carr[y] an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.”

Mr Bannon and Mr Kolfage along with two others have denied all the charges against them.

The order also said that Mr Bannon paid a secret salary to Mr Kolfage from the campaign funds and used it for himself.

"Bannon, apart from using these funds to pay Kolfage’s secret salary, used ‘a substantial portion . . . for personal uses and expenses unrelated to We Build the Wall," the judge noted.

All the other three co-defendants in the case have not been issued pardons and they are preparing to stand trial in federal court. Mr Bannon still faces a New York state investigation after investigators opened a case following Mr Trump’s pardon.

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