Former White House strategist Steve Bannon blamed his arrest on people who want to stop President Trump’s signature promise of a border wall between the United States and Mexico from being built.
“This entire fiasco is to stop the people who want to build the wall,” Bannon said Thursday as he left the federal courthouse in Manhattan.
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Bannon, was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates defrauded donors trying to privately fund a southern border wall, making him the latest in a long list of Trump allies to be charged with a crime.
The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group portrayed themselves as eager to help the president build a “big beautiful” barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he promised during the 2016 campaign. They raised millions from thousands of donors and pledged that 100% of the money would be used for the project on private properties along the border.
But according to the criminal charges unsealed Thursday, much of the money never made it to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon, who served in Trump’s White House and worked for his campaign.
According to a professor of National Security at the University of New Haven, the arrest of Bannon for fraud will become “a football” in the presidential election,
“The indictment looks really strong,” Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D., said. “It’s pretty astounding.”
All four were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
“Perhaps what’s most damning is even after they found out about the existence of the investigation, they took extra efforts to cover it up,” Schmidt told the Associated Press.
The defendants learned last October from a financial institution that the “We Build the Wall” campaign might be under federal criminal investigation and took additional steps to conceal the fraud, according to the indictment.
“And so, you know, it’s as we say…’ It’s the cover up that’s going to get you caught,'” said Schmidt.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon and three others orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with the online crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.
“I think the president should be worried because – not that I think that Bannon is necessarily going to spill beans on the president, there are plenty of beans out there already,” Schmidt said.
“The arrest of Bannon is just one more instance where we look at the corruption in the Trump administration, and it’s one more instance where the Democrats can simply stand up and say, ‘Joe Biden is a decent guy. Look who he surrounds himself with,’ right? ‘Donald Trump isn’t. Look who he surrounds himself with.'”
Bannon is among a stunning list of former Trump associates who have found themselves under indictment or in jail, including his former campaign chair Paul Manafort, his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Multiple messages were left seeking comment from a spokeswoman for Bannon and his lawyer.