Steve Bannon pleads not guilty on fraud charges in virtual court appearance
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is indicted on charges of defrauding donors in an online fundraising scheme called ‘We Build the Wall’; David Lee Miller has an update.
Steve Bannon called his arrest Thursday a "political hit job" and vowed to fight the federal indictment that alleges he defrauded hundreds of thousands of people who donated to a fundraising campaign to build a border wall with Mexico.
"I'm not going to back up one inch," Bannon said Friday on America's Voice News. "All these charges are nonsense. It's a political hit job."
Bannon said that federal authorities are trying to silence him.
"This fiasco yesterday was to intimidate anybody that wants to talk about American sovereignty and wants to talk about the wall," Bannon said. "We're never going to stop talking about that and fighting for it."
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Bannon, a former adviser to Trump and an architect of his 2016 campaign, was aboard a $28 million yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire when he was arrested on fraud charges Thursday morning in the Long Island Sound near Westbrook, Connecticut, according to reports.
Bannon then pleaded not guilty in federal court in Manhattan after being indicted with three others who are accused defrauding donors to the online fundraising campaign known as "We Build the Wall" that raised $25 million.
Bannon was released on a $5 million bond and took to the airwaves to defend himself.
"Everybody knows I love a fight," Bannon said. "You know I was called honey badger for many years. You know honey badger doesn't give. So you know I'm in this for the long haul. I'm in this for the fight."
STEVE BANNON, 'WE BUILD THE WALL' ORGANIZERS ARRESTED, CHARGED WITH DEFRAUDING DONORS
Trump immediately distanced himself from Bannon and the private border wall campaign.
Trump said he feels “very badly” his former adviser was arrested for defrauding donors and called the project “inappropriate.” He said he hadn't dealt with Bannon in "a very long time."
"I feel very badly. I haven't been dealing with him for a very long period of time," Trump told reporters Thursday. "I haven't been dealing with him at all."
The president said he didn’t “know anything about the project at all” but also said he “didn’t like” it.
“I thought it was being done for showboating reasons,” Trump said.
TRUMP REACTS TO 'VERY SAD' BANNON ARREST
According to the indictment, Bannon and co-defendant Brian Kolfage raised money for a "volunteer organization" and told the public that 100 percent of donations would go toward the federal government's building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The campaign's website said that all of the money raised would go to the government for building the wall, and that if they did not meet their fundraising target, they would "refund every single penny," according to the indictment.
"These representations were false," the indictment read.
Within a week of Kolfage launching the campaign in December 2018, they raised roughly $17 million, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors claim that Kolfage, Bannon, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea took money for themselves as the campaign raised more than $25 million. The indictment alleges that Bannon received more than $1 million through a nonprofit that he then used for personal expenses and to pay Kolfage.
Prosecutors say Bannon and the others used the nonprofit and a shell company to hide the payments to Kolfage “by using fake invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements,” as well as other means of keeping the payments quiet. The indictment stated that in order to raise funds, Kolfage and Bannon “repeatedly and falsely” told the public that Kolfage would “not take a penny” in compensation.
Bannon, 66, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Fox News' Morgan Phillips, Marta Dhanis and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
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