Steve Bannon, who led the Trump election campaign in its final months and went on to become a senior White House advisor, was arrested Thursday, July 20, on fraud charges, along with three others. The indictment comes out of the Southern District of New York (SDNY), which has been at the forefront of legal actions related to President Trump, his 2016 campaign, and other associates.
The four defendants, Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The allegations center around a non-profit crowd-funded campaign called We Build the Wall. As the name suggests, the stated purpose of the campaign was to raise money to finance the construction of sections of wall along the border with Mexico. The president had not been a fan of the fundraising operation. In July, he tweeted:
“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhaps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles.
Money Raised for Border Wall Construction
Although most of the money raised was indeed used for that purpose, the defendants are accused of siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use. Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee, founded We Build the Wall, which raised more than $25 million.
Kolfage had claimed to be running the campaign without pay, but Bannon is alleged to have been paying him out of the more than $1 million that he took from the money raised. Additionally, Bannon is accused of also using the money to pay off credit card bills and other personal expenses. Kolfage is also alleged to have taken around $350,000 for personal use.
During his time in the White House, Bannon – who is known for his blunt, aggressive style and nationalist views – often clashed with members of the president’s inner circle. He was forced out in August of 2017. The four men learned that they were under investigation in October of 2019. When asked for a reaction to Bannon’s arrest, a White House spokesperson said: “I refer you to DOJ, this is not a White House matter.”
In compliance with the unsealed indictment, SDNY has ordered the forfeiture of cash and assets belonging to the defendants: essentially, anything believed to have been acquired as a result of the scheme.
Bannon’s arrest will provide the president’s detractors with more ammunition against him, of course. This latest indictment feeds into the narrative that Trump is a crook who has surrounded himself with crooks. Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort – who briefly chaired the 2016 campaign – and now Bannon; each of these men engaged or allegedly engaged in criminal activities for their personal enrichment. Will this developing story have any real effect on the upcoming election, though? That is unlikely.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.