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Bannon pleads not guilty to N.Y. charges on 'Build the Wall' money laundering

Steve Bannon, former adviser to then-President Donald Trump, arrives at the N.Y. District Attorney's Office to turn himself in on Thursday in New York City. Bannon faces a criminal indictment that mirrors the federal case for which he was pardoned by Trump.
David Dee Delgado
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Steve Bannon, former adviser to then-President Donald Trump, arrives at the N.Y. District Attorney's Office to turn himself in on Thursday in New York City. Bannon faces a criminal indictment that mirrors the federal case for which he was pardoned by Trump.

NEW YORK — Steve Bannon, who managed Donald Trump's successful 2016 campaign for the presidency and served his administration as a White House adviser, pleaded not guilty Thursday to New York state charges that he laundered money by diverting funds donated to the We Build the Wall organization.

The organization, launched in 2018, raised more than $15 million after promising to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration.

Bannon was indicted under state law in New York on six charges, including two counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy.

"It is a crime to turn a profit by lying to donors, and in New York, you will be held accountable," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a written statement. "As alleged, Stephen Bannon acted as the architect of a multimillion dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country – including hundreds of Manhattan residents."

New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office worked with Bragg's on the investigation, said Bannon's conduct was particularly egregious because he was well-known as an influential ally of former President Trump.

"There cannot be one set of rules for everyday people and another for the wealthy and powerful," she said.

Bannon strongly denied the accusations.

"They will never shut me up," Bannon said as he was led through a hall in handcuffs. "They'll have to kill me first. I have not yet begun to fight."

The indictment closely tracks a case brought against Bannon in 2020 by the U.S. Justice Department. In that case, two of Bannon's co-defendants pleaded guilty, and a third received a mistrial and may be retried.

Bannon pleaded not guilty but was never tried because President Trump pardoned him on his final day in office. The White House said at the time, "Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen."

The next month, The Washington Post reported that the Manhattan district attorney had begun looking at whether Bannon could be charged under state law.

The then-president's pardon covers only federal crimes, not the state crimes with which Bannon has now been charged.

Bannon's lawyers may argue that the charges should be dismissed under New York's double-jeopardy law.

Paul Manafort, another Trump adviser, successfully argued for the dismissal of state charges against him in 2019. But, unlike Bannon, Manafort had been tried and convicted in federal court before he was charged in New York. Like Bannon, Manafort received a pardon from Trump in the final month of his presidency.

Before joining the Trump campaign in 2016, Bannon rose to prominence as an executive at Breitbart, a right-wing website.

District Attorney Bragg and Attorney General James have experience bringing oversight to Trump and his dealings. They cooperated on an investigation that resulted in criminal tax evasion and conspiracy charges against the Trump Organization and its former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, in 2021. Weisselberg has pleaded guilty.

The Trump Organization is scheduled to be tried starting in October.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ilya Marritz