Steve Bannon surrenders to New York court in wall donor case

Former US president Donald Trump’s longtime ally Steve Bannon has surrendered to face fresh charges that he duped donors who gave money to build a wall on the US/Mexico border.

r Bannon’s state-level charges in New York are expected to closely resemble an attempted federal prosecution that ended abruptly, before trial, when Mr Trump pardoned Mr Bannon on his last day in office.

Presidential pardons apply only to federal crimes, not state offences. In Mr Bannon’s case, any double jeopardy argument would be likely to fall flat because his federal case did not involve an acquittal or conviction.

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Steve Bannon described developments as ‘a partisan political weaponisation of the criminal justice system’ (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Mr Bannon, 68, arrived at the Manhattan district attorney’s office shortly after 9am on Thursday. He had acknowledged in a statement on Tuesday that he would soon be charged.

Mr Bannon said earlier that District Attorney Alvin Bragg “has now decided to pursue phony charges against me 60 days before the midterm election”, accusing the Democratic prosecutor of targeting him because Mr Bannon and his radio show are popular among Mr Trump’s Republican supporters.

Mr Bannon said federal prosecutors “did the exact same thing in August 2020 to try to take me out of the election”, referring to his arrest months before Mr Trump’s re-election loss.

“This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponisation of the criminal justice system,” he said.

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Former US president Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon on his last day in office (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Mr Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James planned a news conference to announce charges against Mr Bannon.

In 2020, federal agents pulled Mr Bannon from a luxury yacht off the Connecticut coast and arrested him on charges he had pocketed more than one million US dollars in wall donations.

Prosecutors alleged thousands of investors were tricked into thinking all of their donations would go towards the border wall project, although Mr Bannon instead paid a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.

While the wall that Mr Bannon’s group proposed was to be built on the US southern border, more than 1,000 miles from New York, Manhattan prosecutors have jurisdiction to pursue charges against Mr Bannon because some of the donors lived in New York.

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Steve Bannon surrendered to New York authorities at the Manhattan district attorney’s office (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

Federal prosecutors, in the trial of a former co-defendant of Mr Bannon’s, noted that some residents of the New York City area had donated to the wall-building project.

One witness that testified was an official with the charities bureau of the New York attorney general’s office who said that a charity backing the wall project had filed paperwork to accept donations in the state. The attorney general’s office was also involved in Mr Bannon’s state criminal case.

Mr Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, was dropped from the federal case when Mr Trump pardoned him.

Two other men involved in the We Build The Wall project pleaded guilty in April. They had been scheduled to be sentenced this week, but this hearing was recently postponed to December.

A third defendant’s trial ended in a mistrial in June after jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict.

In another case not covered by Mr Trump’s pardon, Mr Bannon was convicted in July on contempt charges for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October and faces up to two years in federal prison.

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