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Trump pardons former strategist Steve Bannon

Former Breitbart chief has been charged with duping thousands of investors, pocketing funds donated toward building a wall along Mexico border

US President Donald Trump, left, congratulates then senior counselor to the president Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, left, congratulates then senior counselor to the president Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

US President Donald Trump has pardoned his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his presidency, the White House said Wednesday.

The New York Times said Trump made the decision amid “frantic” efforts to sway him, including by Bannon, who spoke to him by phone on Tuesday.

Trump has flip-flopped repeatedly as he mulls his final actions, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The reported last-minute clemency follows separate waves of pardons over the last month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as the father of his son-in-law. It underscores the president’s willingness, all the way through his four years at the White House, to flex his constitutional powers in ways that defy convention and explicitly aid his allies.

Whereas pardon recipients are generally thought of as defendants who have faced justice, often by having served at least some prison time, a pardon for Bannon nullifies a prosecution that was still in its early stages and likely months away from trial in Manhattan.

Trump is expected to offer pardons and commutations to as many as 100 people in the hours before he leaves office at noon Wednesday, according to two people briefed on the plans. The list is expected to include names unfamiliar to the American public — regular people who have spent years languishing in prison — as well as politically connected friends and allies.

Bannon has been charged with duping thousands of investors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, he allegedly diverted over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself.

Bannon did not respond to questions Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon speaks with reporters after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall, August 20, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Trump has already pardoned a slew of longtime associates and supporters, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law; his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone; and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

A voice of nationalist, outsider conservatism, Bannon — who served in the Navy and worked at Goldman Sachs and as a Hollywood producer before turning to politics — led the conservative Breitbart News before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 campaign in its critical final months.

He later served as chief strategist to the president during the turbulent early days of Trump’s administration and was at the forefront of many of its most contentious policies, including its travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries.

But Bannon, who clashed with other top advisers, was pushed out after less than a year. And his split with Trump deepened after he was quoted in a 2018 book making critical remarks about some of Trump’s adult children. Bannon apologized and soon stepped down as chairman of Breitbart. He and Trump have recently reconciled.

In August, he was pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and brought before a judge in Manhattan, where he pleaded not guilty. When he emerged from the courthouse, Bannon tore off his mask, smiled and waved to news cameras. As he went to a waiting vehicle, he shouted: “This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.”

The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group portrayed themselves as eager to help the president build a “big beautiful” barrier along the US-Mexico border, as he promised during the 2016 campaign. They raised more than $25 million from thousands of donors and pledged that 100 percent of the money would be used for the project.

But according to the criminal charges, much of the money never made it to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon.

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