A New York grand jury has indicted former Trump advisor Steve Bannon on charges related to the private border wall fundraising scam “We Build The Wall.” Bannon and others faced a federal indictment over the scheme in 2020, but, unlike his codefendants, Bannon received a last-minute pardon from then-President Donald Trump on Trump’s way out the door.
The new indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, levels state money laundering, conspiracy and scheming to defraud charges against Bannon, rather than federal ones. It also charges the “We Build The Wall” organization itself.
Bannon surrendered at the Manhattan district attorney’s office Thursday morning.
In essence, prosecutors in both the federal and, now, the state case argue that while We Build The Wall leadership promised donors that all proceeds would be used to build segments of border wall on private land abutting the U.S.-Mexico border, those leaders were actually siphoning off part of the funds for personal use. Bannon served as president of WeBuildTheWall, Inc’s advisory board, the state indictment noted.
Prosecutors have accused the group’s leadership of secretly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Brian Kolfage, We Build The Wall’s triple-amputee leader and “Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1” in the state charges, with the help of Bannon and others.
Kolfage, as well as co-conspirator Andrew Badolato, pleaded guilty to federal charges in April. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case of a fourth alleged co-conspirator, Timothy Shea, in June, after 11 jurors wrote to the judge about another juror who’d spoken about a “government witch hunt” and would not discuss the evidence in the case.
The new indictment extensively quotes alleged text messages in which Bannon works with others to funnel money to Unindicted Co-Conspirator 1.
In a press conference Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Bannon had used his political connections to “cheat everyday Americans and carry out this fraud” and “lied to ordinary citizens about this project.”
And when he was held accountable, James said, “the former president pardoned him.”
Bannon has decried the charges as a political attack. In a statement Wednesday, he said the federal charges against him “didn’t work,” but didn’t specify that that was because of Trump’s pardon. “They are coming after all of us, not only President Trump and myself,” he added.
If convicted, Bannon could face a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.
Bannon isn’t the first Trump pardon recipient to face state charges in New York: In 2019, a New York state judge dismissed fraud charges against Paul Manafort on the grounds of New York’s double jeopardy law, as Manafort had already faced the same charges in a federal court. Trump pardoned Manafort the following year – but only after then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an update to New York state law that allowed for the prosecution of people who receive presidential pardons.
This post has been updated.