Judge Dismisses Fraud Indictment Against Ex-Trump Adviser Bannon

Judge Dismisses Fraud Indictment Against Ex-Trump Adviser Bannon steve bannon walks out of court house Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld Wednesday, 26 May 2021 07:03 AM

Steve Bannon, the onetime top strategist for former President Donald Trump and recipient of a presidential pardon, on Tuesday won dismissal of an indictment accusing him of defrauding donors to a fund to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan said dismissal was "the proper course" in light of the pardon, which Bannon received in the final hours of Trump's presidency.

Prosecutors had argued that instead of dismissing the indictment, the judge should merely dismiss Bannon as one of the four defendants. The defendants had been charged in connection with the alleged siphoning of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the $25 million "We Build the Wall" crowdfunding campaign.

But the judge said the pardon was valid, and that even if Bannon did not formally admit guilt "the issuance of a pardon may carry an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it." Prosecutors had said the pardon "speaks for itself" and provided all the "finality" Bannon was entitled to.

The office of U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan declined to comment.

Bannon was "thrilled" with the indictment's dismissal, his lawyer Robert Costello said after speaking with him.

But the judge said the pardon was valid, and that even if Bannon did not formally admit guilt "the issuance of a pardon may carry an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it."

Prosecutors had said the pardon "speaks for itself" and provided all the "finality" Bannon was entitled to.

The office of U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan declined to comment.

Bannon was "thrilled" with the indictment's dismissal, his lawyer Robert Costello said after speaking with him.

"She certainly got the result right," Costello said, referring to the judge. "A pardon doesn't rewrite history. … But in this case, we're dealing with a person who is presumed innocent by the Constitution of the United States and whose plea was not guilty, and nothing changes that history either."

It was not immediately clear how the dismissal will affect Bannon's co-defendants, or whether they might try to steer blame toward Bannon as they defend themselves.

The defendants include Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee who led the We Build the Wall campaign.

"There is nothing I have to say about the situation," Kolfage's lawyer Harvey Steinberg said in an interview. "It is completely out of our hands, and within the Executive Branch's discretion."

Bannon, 67, championed the "America First" right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that became hallmarks of Trump's presidency.

Original Article