Steve Bannon Could Hold Keys to Several Trump Investigations. Will He Flip?

The charges laid against former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on Thursday sent shock waves through Washington, as many wondered what the right-wing firebrand's arrest could mean for President Donald Trump and some of his closest confidants.

Bannon was charged by the Southern District of New York (SDNY), along with three others, for allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a campaign that raised more than $25 million to see the U.S.-Mexico border wall built.

All four individuals have been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, with the possibility of receiving up to 20 years behind bars for each count.

Speaking with Newsweek on Friday, Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and current professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said it is unlikely that Bannon would receive such a heavy sentence.

As per sentencing guidelines, 11 to 14 years would be a "reasonable time for someone to spend in prison" under the charges. However, given that this is a white collar crime, McQuade said she could imagine Bannon receiving something more along the lines of seven years if found guilty.

"The reason for that is the great disparity we see in the criminal justice system between white collar defendants and other defendants," she said. "Although the guidelines are 11 to 14 years and I think prosecutors would advocate for 11 to 14 years, so often we see judges cut a break to people who commit white collar crimes."

"I think it's a bias in the system. I think it is a grave injustice, but it has happened frequently," she said.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see a judge impose something more along the lines of seven years, but it's still a substantial amount of time for someone of his age," McQuade said of Bannon, who is 66.

As such, she said, the former White House chief strategist could be desperate to do what he can to reduce his sentence—which could mean sharing key information on Trump and his associates in exchange for leniency.

"He has information not only about Donald Trump, but about those around him, like Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Erik Prince," she said, with the latter being the billionaire founder of defense contractor Blackwater, as well as the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

With Prince appearing to have given conflicting statements to the House Intelligence Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller about a meeting he had with a Russian financier connected to President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles islands in January of 2017, the month Trump took office, McQuade said Bannon could provide clarity on the situation.

Both Trump Jr. and Kushner, she also noted, could find themselves in hot water if Bannon decides to share information in exchange for leniency, particularly on questions around a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia and on both family members' meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.

Caroline Polisi, a criminal defense attorney and partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP, told Newsweek that with the SDNY being "somewhat notorious or famous for looking into Trump associates" and given the fact that there have been many questions around his campaign and administration, "they could certainly ask Bannon questions about things that have nothing to do with this indictment."

"So, the question is, what type of information does he have?" she said.

"There are so many unknowns and obviously, if he cooperated, he could be looking at a plea deal," Polisi said. "Ultimately, the judge is the one that decides the sentence. But if the prosecutors feel that he's provided substantial assistance in the prosecution of either this case or another case, that could substantially mitigate any sentence."

However, Polisi warned: "The way the system is set up encourages plea bargaining, plea deals and parties to plead guilty quickly. And so the longer he holds out and if he's found guilty, the longer he's likely to get in terms of a sentence because judges and prosecutors and the system really don't like it when criminal defendants exercise their right to a jury trial and so they get penalized for it."

The current case against Bannon, McQuade said, "is a strong" one, particularly given that investigators have obtained the documents to back their charges up.

"Oftentimes, when you have to rely on eyewitnesses, sometimes those people who are witnesses can have their motives on the witness stand or biases or problems with their ability to observe. But, with documents, it's very clear what they say," she said. "They don't lie. They don't forget and they don't wither on cross-examination."

Bannon sharing on formation on Trump and his associates, however, is just one way that the case could play out.

"Now, of course, he could keep his mouth shut and signal to President Trump about what he plans to do by saying, 'I'm going to keep my mouth shut' and instead hope for a pardon that may help protect people in trouble," McQuade said.

However, Trump has not yet suggested that he would be willing to pardon Bannon if given the chance and with the November election looming, his time to deliver clemency could be running short.

Further, if Trump did pardon Bannon, it could be a politically risky move with the election so close on the horizon.

With Bannon's case yet to play out, what is clear is that he is one of a growing list of people around Trump who have been charged with crimes, with a number of the president's associates being convicted.

Steve Bannon
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Bannon and three other defendants have been indicted for allegedly defrauding donors in a $25 million border wall fundraising campaign. Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress/Getty