It looks like President Trump may have another name to add to his pardon list.
Stephen K. Bannon, the red-nosed dear who held the reins for a time as Trump’s chief strategist, was indicted last week in New York by federal prosecutors. Officials say Bannon and three others ripped off donors to a private campaign to fund construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Americans may never know who’s paying for that pesky wall, or if it will come to fruition – but it was one of Trump’s key campaign promises. At first, Trump insisted Mexico would pay for it, but the Mexican government had other ideas. Then the U.S. government was going to provide the entire sum, but trouble erupted via the U.S. Congress. Then came the private crowdfunding campaign, which was highly publicized and praised by many in the Trump organization, though they now can’t seem to recall the kudos they bestowed.
But whether memory serves or no, the Bannon bunch ran the show for “We Build The Wall,” saying they wouldn’t take compensation for their efforts. Turns out the guy may have scooped up more than $1 million funneled through a nonprofit, after the other three took their cuts. Many of Trump’s strongest allies backed the effort, which collected over $25 million through countless donors. One of those was apparently a Cherokee County man who says he got skinned for $200.
The quartet is accused of using the nonprofit and a shell company, creating fake invoices to conceal their deeds. It got them arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Bannon was nabbed while on a 150-foot yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire, who is wanted in his home country for bribery, blackmail and fraud.
Trump did kick Bannon to the curb in 2017 after a dispute that prompted the president to use one of his infamous labels – in this case, the spot-on “Sloppy Steve.” But when asked about the current issue, Trump offered the same comment he makes every time one of his cronies is busted – that he feels “very badly” for him. He denied any recent association with Bannon, and added he considered the private fundraising for the wall “inappropriate,” saying it was done for “showboating reasons.”
True though that may be, it’s laced with irony. Trump’s press secretary asserted he always believed the wall “must be a government project and that it is far too big and complex to be handled privately.” Wait – didn’t Trump also pledge to get rid of the U.S. deficit? And what about Donald Trump Jr., who in 2019 publicly lauded the group run by Bannon and Co. as “private enterprise at its finest”? Furthermore, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an adviser for the organization, said Trump told him “the project has my blessing, and you can tell the media that.”
Few Beltway insiders were surprised by Bannon’s arrest, since almost anyone who’s ever rubbed elbows with him considers him unsavory. That’s also true of another now-dead fellow who seemed to have connections in both parties: the pervert Jeffrey Epstein. And while the latter has been out of the Trump picture for years, Bannon might have still been slinking around if the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hadn’t wanted him out.
Media outlets on the left and right have reported in detail the 23-page indictment for Bannon, who may have defrauded many well-meaning people who oppose “illegal” immigration. If the descriptions are accurate, this seedy character may get what’s coming to him. The public will have to wait and see whether Trump feels “badly” enough about his former ally’s situation to issue a pardon.
This editorial was originally published by the Tahlequah (Oklahoma) Daily Press, a CNHI sister newspaper, on Aug. 20.