Former Trump Adviser Steve Bannon Arrested Over Border Wall Crowdfunding Campaign

Political strategist Steve Bannon was charged with criminal fraud Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and arrested for his role in a crowdfunding campaign to fund President Donald Trump's proposed border wall dividing the U.S. and Mexico.

"As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction," acting SDNY U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss announced.

"While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle," Strauss said.

Steve Bannon
Former White House senior counselor Steve Bannon speaks to members of the media as he leaves a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., after testifying at the Roger Stone trial on November 8, 2019. Alex Wong/Getty

Newsweek reached out to Bannon and the White House for comment but did not hear back before publication. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later released a public statement about Bannon's arrest, saying Trump never supported the crowdfunding campaign.

"As everyone knows, President Trump has no involvement in this project and felt it was only being done in order to showboat and perhaps raise funds," McEnany said. She referred journalists to a July remark from the president in which he distanced himself from the crowdfunding effort.

"President Trump has always felt the wall must be a government project and that it is far too big and complex to be handled privately," McEnany said. She added that the president "has not been involved" with Bannon since he left his White House role.

Bannon was indicted along with three associates: Timothy Shea, Brian Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran; and Andrew Badolato.

Bannon, who co-founded the right-wing news site Breitbart, served as an adviser to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and had a brief stint in the White House. He held the title of White House chief strategist and senior counselor to the president from January 2017 until August 2017.

In a press release, the SDNY alleged that, starting in December 2018, Bannon and his associates launched a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of contributors, including donors within the SDNY's jurisdiction. The scheme involved the crowdfunding campaign "We Build the Wall," which took in more than $25 million in donations.

Although the defendants assured the public that they would "not take a penny" of the funds for themselves and that "100 percent" of the funds would go toward the project, the indictment alleges Bannon collected over $1 million from the campaign. His associate Kolfage allegedly took some $350,000 of the funds raised for personal use.

"They did so by using fake invoices and sham 'vendor' arrangements, among other ways, to ensure, as Kolfage noted in a text message to Badolato, that his pay arrangement remained 'confidential' and kept on a 'need to know' basis," the SDNY press release alleged.

Bannon resigned from his White House post, but former chief of staff John Kelly reportedly asked the former Trump strategist to do so instead of being fired. Despite his departure from the White House, Bannon has remained a supporter of the president. Earlier this year, he launched a podcast titled War Room: Impeachment in an effort to defend the president.

This story has been updated with additional information and background.

Updated August 20, 2020 at 11:46 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement released by the White House press secretary.

Correction August 20, 2020 at 3:25 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that defendant Timothy Shea is the same person as the Timothy Shea who currently serves as the acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration. They are different people and the acting director of the DEA is not involved with the charges against Bannon and has not been indicted.