When Steve Bannon turned himself into authorities at Manhattan Supreme Court Thursday morning following his indictment on charges related to a border wall fundraising scam, the former Trump adviser was his usual unapologetic self — framing his alleged misdeeds as a political attack.
Repeatedly pointing out that the midterm elections were “six weeks” away, Bannon described the situation as an “irony” when walking into the courthouse, saying: “on the very day the mayor of this city has a delegation down on the border, they’re persecuting people here who are trying to stop” migrants.
This is the second time that Bannon, who in July was found guilty of contempt of Congress, was charged for siphoning cash from an online fundraiser for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. He and the fundraising organization are charged in a six-count indictment with second-degree money laundering, fourth-degree conspiracy, first-degree scheme to defraud, and fifth-degree conspiracy. Bannon is expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.
Bannon did not seem worried as he was walked into Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom around 2:12 p.m. Although the maskless Bannon was handcuffed and escorted by several court officers, he had a large smirk on his face. (Merchan is the same judge overseeing former Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg’s fraud case.)
At Bannon’s arraignment on Thursday afternoon, he was asked “how do you plead to the indictment, guilty or not guilty?” Bannon’s attorney, David Schoen, answered “not guilty” for his client.
Bannon was first arrested in connection with the scheme on Aug. 20, 2020 for his alleged role in bilking “hundreds of thousands of donors” who had dumped money into an online crowdfunding campaign known as “We Build the Wall”— which raised more than $25 million. The state charges closely echo the federal case.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged that Bannon got more than $1 million from We Build the Wall “at least some of which he used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in [his] personal expenses.” Three others — Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea — were also charged in relation to the scheme.
The feds claimed that Bannon and his three co-defendants “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors.” While donors were promised that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward border wall construction, they used bogus vendor agreements and fake invoices.
But Trump pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency, seemingly bringing an end to the far right firebrand’s legal woes. Kolfage and Badolato, on the other hand, pleaded guilty on April 21, 2022 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Shea was the only We Build The Wall defendant to go on trial. The proceedings ended in a mistrial on June 7, 2022, following 11 jurors’ allegations that the 12th panelist showed “political bias” and allegedly described the proceedings as a “government witch hunt,” The New York Times reported. Shea’s retrial is expected to begin this fall.
Bannon’s prior federal case, and Trump’s pardon, are unlikely to affect the legal viability of state charges. Attorneys have explained that because Bannon did not go on trial or get convicted of federal charges, double-jeopardy protections do not apply.
“It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “As alleged, Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country – including hundreds of Manhattan residents. ”
Bannon, echoing the conspiracy-minded tone of his former boss, slammed the new We Build The Wall case as “phony charges” and “nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system” when news of the charges emerged, per CNN.
“I am proud to be a leading voice on protecting our borders and building a wall to keep our country safe from drugs and violent criminals,” Bannon said. “They are coming after all of us, not only President Trump and myself. I am never going to stop fighting. In fact, I have not yet begun to fight. They will have to kill me first.”
Bannon’s other legal woes relate to the Jan. 6 insurrection. His conviction on two contempt of Congress counts is in relation to his refusal to comply with a Jan. 6 committee subpoena. He faces from 30 days to one year in lockup on each count.
The committee wanted to interview Bannon over his communications with Trump, and others in the former president’s circle, in the days preceding Jan. 6. During Bannon’s radio show on Jan. 5, 2021, he said that he thought “all hell is going to break loose” the next day. “I’ll tell you this: It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen,” Bannon said. “It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in.”
As the press waited outside Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office for Bannon to surrender on Thursday, the public’s reaction to his case appeared mixed.
Bill Christeson, who said he has protested outside court proceedings for other Trump cronies, stood alongside reporters holding a sign that read “NO SHAME.”
“He’s a crook and a traitor,” said Christeson, 58.
One man observing the hubbub from the passenger side of a sedan asked if Michael Jackson was coming back. “Yes,” a reporter answered jokingly. “Oh shit!” the man shouted back.
“What is this about?” another passerby asked.
“Steve Bannon” a reporter responded.
The woman sighed and grimaced. “I better take a nauseous pill,” she said, walking off.
When Bannon left court later on Thursday, he remained adamant that the charges reflected a conspiracy to thwart his work in advance of “the most important midterm election since 1862, since the Civil War.”
“I got news for them: I have not yet begun to fight,” he said. “We are going to win a sweeping landslide at every level … We are not going to back down, ok, we are not gonna back down and they will not be able to shut me up.”
He then plugged his podcast before railing against how the “administrative state” is the enemy. “Everyone of you in this audience is nothing but a pauper, because [of] the Federal Reserve, the oligarchs on Wall Street, the oligarchs in Silicon Valley, in the uniparty of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “You’re all in bondage.”