President Trump pardoned Stephen Bannon, his 2016 campaign chairman and one-time White House aide, late Tuesday amid a final flurry of executive clemency with just hours left in his administration. Bannon was arrested in August and charged with defrauding investors, mostly Trump supporters, through a group called "We Build the Wall."
In its pardon notice, the White House said Bannon had received "a full pardon" for "charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project," adding that the former Breitbart News chief "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." Trump has already pardoned another 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as longtime ally Roger Stone and other 2016 advisers and allies.
The "We Build the Wall" campaign raised more than $25 million, ostensibly to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon siphoned off more than $1 million through a nonprofit he controlled and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to another organizer, Brian Kolfage, who was also charged in the alleged scheme. Kolfage was not on Trump's pardon list. Trump distanced himself from Bannon and the fundraising project after the arrests, and aides believed Bannon was not going to get a pardon up until Tuesday, CNN reports.
Trump "made the decision on Mr. Bannon after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including from Mr. Bannon himself, who spoke to him by phone on Tuesday," The New York Times reports. After Bannon helped elect Trump and joined his White House, the two had a dramatic falling-out when Bannon told journalist Michael Wolff, for his book Fire and Fury, that Ivanka Trump is "dumb as a brick" and Donald Trump Jr. had acted "treasonous" by meeting with Russian agents during the campaign. But since last summer, "Bannon has slowly come back into the Trump orbit," The Washington Post notes.
Bannon may still be in legal jeopardy for his work with exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and state prosecutors might still be able to charge him for any "We Build the Wall" fraud.