Blood-filled wineskin and former White House political adviser Steve Bannon narrowly escaped possible federal prison time for his role in a scammy GoFundMe campaign to build a wall on the border with Mexico, courtesy of a last-minute pardon from ex-President Donald Trump. But that won’t help him in New York, where the Manhattan district attorney’s office is reportedly looking into how they can still nail him.
The original indictment accused Bannon and co-conspirators of taking funds donated to the “We Build the Wall” campaign and pocketing them, with Bannon facing two conspiracy charges on wire fraud and money laundering. Allegedly, Bannon siphoned off at least $US1 ($1.3) million towards a non-profit controlled by him, blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor money on personal expenses and paying off credit-card debt. Bannon dodged up to 20 years in prison with the stroke of Trump’s pen (though he left Bannon’s alleged co-conspirators, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, hung out to dry).
Presidential pardon powers only extend as far as the federal criminal justice system, and Bannon is unlikely to be shielded by double jeopardy in the case, especially as he was never convicted. That means any state prosecutor with a reasonable claim to jurisdiction has an opportunity to file new charges against Bannon related to the GoFundMe scam.
According to the New York Times, prosecutors in Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office have taken serious steps towards a case, with two sources saying those developments include “seeking records and requesting to interview at least one potential witness.” The Washington Post separately reported that Vance’s office is still handling matters related to the Bannon case because it has not been officially dismissed and that courts would need to order a “sharing order” for federal prosecutors to share evidence with Vance.
Neither the Times or the Post shed any light on whether such an order has been obtained, though the Post reported the original indictment indentified some donors to the We Build the Wall GoFundMe campaign as residents of the Southern District of New York. That could give Vance jurisdiction, as could New York’s status as a global banking centre — making it all but guaranteed one financial institution or another could be involved in the scam.
The other defendants in the federal case are scheduled to go to trial on May 24, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s possible that New York prosecutors could also decide to charge Bannon with other possible crimes they might dig up while looking into him.
Vance’s office has also been investigating Trump for possible tax and insurance fraud — though Trump’s team is still appealing the release of eight years of relevant records before the Supreme Court. According to the Times, Vance is considering opening an investigation against Ken Kurson, a close friend of Trump’s elfin son-in-law Jared Kushner who received a pardon on federal cyberstalking and harassment charges.
Vance also tried to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2019 — who had the prior year been convicted in federal courts for his corrupt dealings with pro-Russia Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych — on a bevy of state crimes, ostensibly to ensure that Manafort faced consequences even if Trump pardoned him. Vance did not get the results he wanted. Though Manafort did later recieve a pardon from Trump, state courts ruled the double jeopardy defence protected him from further state charges because he’d already been convicted. Vance is appealing the decision.