McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — President Donald Trump’s last-minute pardon of Steve Bannon has angered many anti-border wall activists in South Texas who blame the political strategist for helping the Trump administration to orchestrate miles of border wall along the Southwest border with Mexico.
Bannon, who was Trump’s former chief political operative, was among 140 people granted clemency early Wednesday, just hours before Trump left the White House and Joe Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th president.
“The idea of presidential pardons is that they be used to remedy injustices — people who are unjustly accused, or otherwise end up unjustly in the criminal justice system. I do not think that the use of the presidential pardon power to pardon Steve Bannon were what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind. It’s an injustice because it will allow his actions, which have been so detrimental to border communities, to remain in impunity,” Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Border Report.
It’s an injustice because it will allow his actions, which have been so detrimental to border communities, to remain in impunity.”Efrén Olivares, Southern Poverty Law Center
Olivares, who served for seven years as director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, based in South Texas, said the Trump administration tried to divide border communities by building billions of dollars worth of border wall miles from California to the Gulf of Mexico by taking land from border communities and separating families from their relatives in Mexico.
In August, Bannon was charged with fraud for taking money from thousands of donors who believed they were contributing funds to construct a 3-mile section of private border wall in South Texas through a private organization, We Build The Wall. Court documents claimed Bannon diverted over $1 million to campaign officials and to pay personal expenses. The nonprofit organization crowdsourced over $25 million in funds they said would be used to build private border wall.
Brian Kolfage, who is a co-defendant in the criminal case filed in New York, also is accused of also taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the donated funds for personal expenses. But he was not pardoned by Trump.
Marianna Treviño Wright, the executive director of the National Butterfly Center in Mission who has filed a civil defamation lawsuit against We Build the Wall that is pending in federal court in McAllen, Texas, accused Trump of selling pardons in his last days.
“The Trump pardons were for sale. Brian (Kolfage) doesn’t have the kind of money that has been disclosed as a precursor to that sort of political pardon,” Treviño Wright told Border Report on Wednesday.
The New York Times reported that Trump’s allies were “collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency,” according to cited documents and dozens of interviews.
But Bannon’s value, is a different story, she said.
“His entire career has been built on misinformation campaigns designed to sway public opinion and influence elections. So in that respect he’s been incredibly valuable to Trump,” Treviño Wright said.
“The pardon, itself, is an admission of guilt. Bannon’s wall fiasco was just one of the many criminal activities associated with the Trump administration,” Tricia Cortez, a co-founder of the No Border Wall Coalition told Border Report. “Bannon’s criminal involvement is just one example surrounding the entire border wall project, with contractors treating this as a feeding frenzy to take as much money as they can from taxpayers when we have so many urgent needs at hand.”
In issuing Bannon a full pardon, the Trump White House said in a statement that “Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”
Border Report has reached out to Kolfage and will update this story if information is received.
Treviño Wright said construction on the land south of Mission, Texas, where the private border wall is located continues as crews try to shore up the foundation, fix cracks in the land base and get grass to seed on the windy and meandering banks of the Rio Grande, just across from Reynosa, Mexico. The 18-foot-tall galvanized steel wall is built near the National Butterfly Center.
Late last month, the farmer, Neuhaus & Sons LLC, which had owned the strip of riverfront land where the private wall was built in January 2020, officially sold the land to TGR Construction Inc., a North Dakota-based affiliate of Fisher Sand & Gravel Company, which built the private border wall in South Texas. Records filed with the Hidalgo County Clerk’s office showed the warranty deed and land easement grants were signed on Dec. 22 and filed on Dec. 29, 2020, and covered the narrow riverfront strip of land on the peninsula-like land mass that had been in the Neuhaus family for years. Treviño Wright said the sale amount has not yet been disclosed and she hopes to learn it as the court case proceeds.
A hearing in the lawsuit was held in federal court in McAllen in December and Treviño Wright says a trial date is set for September 2021.
We Build The Wall also erected a barrier in Sunland Park, New Mexico, where the group in 2019 held a “Wall-A-Thon” that was attended by Bannon, Kolfage and Trump’s son Donald. Jr.
We Build The Wall said it planned on donating the structure, which includes a roadway and lighting, to the Border Patrol.
In a statement to KTSM on Wednesday, a CBP spokesman said, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not received any donations of constructed border wall from the private entity, We Build the Wall WBTW).
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.