Steve Bannon in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday.

Steve Bannon in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Thursday. Credit: AP/Steven Hirsch

The bare fact that Steve Bannon and other Donald Trump operatives created a “charitable” organization to help fund the ex-president’s promised border wall tells its own back story.

First, Trump promised Mexico would fund it. Then he pushed Congress for the billions he wanted to spend. Even the Trump-friendly Republican majorities then in charge declined. Then the administration unilaterally tapped into a $15 billion pot, much of it from the Defense Department budget.

But for the MAGA crew, whether in New York or Florida or Washington, fundraising season lasts forever. 

On Thursday, Bannon surrendered to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office which charged him with money laundering, conspiracy, and fraud involving funds allegedly siphoned from the entity called “We Build The Wall Inc.”

Shortly before this "charity" grew out of a GoFundMe drive, even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly acknowledged that the “wall” wouldn’t really be a wall. And when Trump left office, 458 miles worth of bollards and electronic systems had gone up, mostly reinforcing barriers that existed before, at an estimated taxpayer cost of $46 million per mile. The border, of course, extends nearly 2,000 miles.

Scoring money through sharp dealings has long been a subject of interest for Bannon. The Trump campaign he guided in 2016 portrayed rivals Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz as “controlled” by New York-based Goldman Sachs. Of course, Bannon made big money himself as an investment banker in the very same firm — and as an executive producer in Hollywood — before co-founding the right-wing Breitbart media company.

Funny how certain "populists" roll.

Bannon has a murky history with Trump. In 2018, he was quoted as branding as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that famous Trump Tower campaign meeting of a Kremlin-connected lawyer with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner.

Soon, Bannon was out of the White House. Trump tweeted that "sloppy Steve" had lost his mind. Bannon's benefactors in the Mercer family on Long Island dumped him, too.

Despite Bannon's obvious involvement in "We Build," Trump Jr. had no problem appearing in 2019 in support of the money drive alongside its founder and frontman, wounded Iraq War vet Brian Kolfage, who pleaded guilty in May to charges related to defrauding donors and awaits sentencing.

Bannon was charged then, too. But a presidential pardon by Trump erased that federal prosecution. This new state case, which the federal pardon doesn't reach, comes from Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg's office. At the moment, the DA happens to be a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans blasting him over how he handles crime cases.

The canceled federal case should give Bragg a road map on Bannon, whom he calls the "architect of a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country — including hundreds of Manhattan residents."

On July 22 in Washington, a jury convicted Bannon of criminal contempt of Congress stemming from his blowing off subpoenas in the Capitol riot probe. Before and after, he predictably projected victimhood and solidarity with Trump. 

On Thursday in Manhattan, Bannon told reporters and onlookers it was an "irony" that "they are persecuting people here" for trying to stop border-crossers.

Even legal trouble can offer him a chance to curry support, financial or otherwise, from the politically credulous. But unfortunately for Bannon, his liege Trump really did lose the election, and with it the power to grant pardons and other official favors.

Besides, Trump these days has serious problems with law enforcement all his own.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.

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