President Trump issued an eleventh-hour pardon to his former chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday night, sparing a longtime ally from a federal fraud prosecution over his alleged misappropriation of nonprofit funds.
Why it matters: Bannon was the most high-profile name on a list of what's expected to be dozens pardons and commutations that the White House released, with mere hours remaining in Trump’s presidency. His pardon of the former Breitbart News chief came as Bannon faced criminal charges stemming from a scheme to privately finance a southern border wall.
Background: Bannon was arrested last summer and charged with defrauding donors to the group We Build The Wall, which raised more than $20 million — largely from Trump supporters — to construct barriers on sections of the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Prosecutors accused Bannon and an alleged co-conspirator, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, of duping the effort’s financial backers with promises that they would not receive a dime of the funds raised.
- In fact, prosecutors said, Bannon, Kolfage and others involved in the effort extracted millions ostensibly earmarked for border wall construction.
- Bannon and Kolfage both pleaded not guilty.
Bannon is a longtime cheerleader for Trump’s brand of “populist nationalism,” which he championed at Breitbart and subsequently as a senior aide on Trump’s 2016 campaign and in his West Wing.
- Bannon and the president had a major falling out in late 2017, when Bannon was revealed to have leaked information to author Michael Wolff for his tell-all book on the Trump White House.
- Trump and Bannon have reportedly been in contact in recent weeks regarding the president’s ill-fated legal efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Bannon's legal jeopardy may have expanded beyond the ongoing prosecution involving We Build The Wall.
- The FBI was said to be probing Bannon's work with Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire with whom he's teamed up on a host of news and business ventures of late.
- When Bannon was arrested in August, he was aboard Guo's 151-foot yacht in the Long Island Sound.