It is a safe assumption that anything associated with Donald Trump and his associates is a grift whose main purpose is to line the pockets of the well-connected. The arrest today of Steve Bannon, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager and former close associate, and three others exposes the fraud behind the allegedly non-profit, “fully volunteer” organization called We Build the Wall that raked in millions of donations from the rubes supposedly to help build the border wall that has become the great white whale of Trump and his supporters.
The group’s website is a roll call of top figures in Republican and conservative circles.
It lists Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and a prominent Trump cheerleader, as its attorney general. Bannon was the advisory board chairman. Erik Prince, founder of the private military contractor Blackwater USA, is a member of the organization’s advisory board. Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, an icon in conservative anti-immigration circles, is also on the advisory board, as is former Milwaukee county sheriff Dave Clarke and former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling.
Audrey Strauss, the acting district attorney for the southern district of New York, said Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea engaged in a scheme to defraud donors to the fundraising campaign. We Build the Wall raised $25m to help fund a wall across the southern border of the United States. The wall has been Trump’s signature proposal since the beginning of his presidential campaign. It remains unfinished.
According to the charges, the men used the hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors to the fundraising campaign “in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations”. Kolfage took $350,000 “for his personal use” and Bannon funneled over $1m from the campaign through a nonprofit. The men, according to the charges, set up a system to route the donations through a non-profit and shell company handled by Shea.
The men used “fake invoices” and sham “vendor” arrangements” in the process, prosecutors said.
In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that “100% of the funds raised … will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose” because, as Bannon publicly stated, “we’re a volunteer organization.”
These people did not skimp when it came to siphoning money for their own use.
Kolfage used the money for expenses, such as “home renovations, payments toward a boat, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt”. The other men each siphoned “hundreds of thousands” in donations, it was said, which they used on personal expenses such as “travel, hotels, consumer goods and personal credit card debts”.
This organization was also providing some funding for the idiotic small stretch of wall being built on the banks of the Rio Grande that I wrote about earlier based on a ProPublica expose, where erosion is already taking a toll, though that money was leveraged, again using political connections, to get funding from the federal government.
On an odd note, Bannon was arrested while on a boat by agents of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is the criminal investigating arm of the Postal Service, the agency that Trump and the Republicans are trying to destroy.
So what is the betting on what will happen next? My guess is that Trump will initially distance himself from these people despite his close connections with them and then, just before he leaves office after losing in November, will pardon them, along with all the other crooks inside and outside his administration. [UPDATE; The distancing phase has already commenced.]
[Another update: On a trivial note, photographs of Bannon always show him with a beard stubble, like he didn’t have time to shave that morning. I know that sporting a few days growth has become popular among some celebrities but Bannon’s looks messier than theirs. Does he deliberately cultivate the unkempt look?]
Marcus Ranum says
I will note that Trump, himself, seems to be avoiding New York. How’s that for a conspiracy theory?
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
I’ve noticed that as well. But of course it’s ridiculous. There is no way that the courts would hold that NY (or any state) can hold any POTUS pending trial or even make remaining in the state a condition of bail.
It’s highly unlikely that they could even bring a trial while he’s in office. I think it’s a toss up whether charges can be filed. (I think they should be able to be filed, but you never know with our courts, they’re just so determined to prevent accountability for the powerful.) That would really be the best outcome, an indictment to stay the statute of limitations, then proceed to trial when his term is up.
So… avoiding NY now is useless: they’re not going to arrest him or try to hold him. It would be an obvious overreach and could backfire (both politically and with the jury pool, not to mention the judges determining whether the DA’s actions are constitutionally reasonable). If Trump understood anything about our constitutional system, he’d know that.
But after he leaves office he’s sure as heck in jeopardy. Though in that case hanging out in other states won’t help. It’s exceedingly difficult to get a state to deny extradition to another state. So, avoiding NY wouldn’t help him then, either.
So, yeah, I think he’s avoiding NY, but I don’t think he could articulate a good reason if you asked him, and I don’t think even if he had a reason that it would likely hold up.
Matt G says
Wait, the wall thing was about grift? I thought it was just about racism. Silly me.
I think he’s avoiding NY because at best he only has the fandom of the morons upstate, that 30% of the population (where I live). Virtually any pf the large airports he could fly into NYS he’s going to be openly boo’d and hissed at and we all know he can’t handle that kind of negativity.
Who Cares says
@Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden(#2):
There is nothing in the constitution or any law that would prevent the sitting president of the US from being hauled into court. But thanks to Nixon the justice department has concluded that due to the need to keep the separation of powers the president is constitutionally immune to indictment and this cannot be criminally charged while president.
And you are right about being able to hold him for other reasons. It hasn’t explicitly states but in one of the civil suits against Trump the judge explicitly stated that the responsibilities of being the president take precedence over for example showing up in court.
And for getting him after he turns into an ex-president. Depends on the statute of limitations. Trump getting a second term will mean he cannot get charged for most things he pulled and got to light during the last few years.
I do wonder if they can get him for misconduct while in public office (seeing that the limit is 5 years after leaving said office) or that the supremacy clause preempts that.
As for avoiding New York. He is getting his ass handed there in two civil suits. One is stuck in appellate court on the question if the president is immune to lawsuits (nope seeing precedence). The other just denied him the appeal that they had to wait until that first appeal was decided.
Bannon looks like an unhealthy person because…he is an unhealthy person.
He has a chronic skin disease called rosacea.
The Republican party has become a haven for con men who regard their loyal base as marks to be exploited..
It occurs to me that pickpockets like crowds, hackers like weak passwords and a certain type of grifter likes MAGA cultists, perhaps because they figure anyone who thinks Trump actually loves America and wants to make it “great” (again) is all but wearing a ‘cheat me’ sign.