Trump likely to pardon former aide Steve Bannon, accused of defrauding donors

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – US President Donald Trump has granted clemency to former White House aide Steve Bannon as part of a wave of pardons and commutations he will issue during his final hours in office, a senior administration official said. 

Mr Trump was not expected to pardon himself, members of his family or lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was at the forefront of unsuccessful efforts to get the results of the 2020 presidential election overturned, according to sources. 

Mr Trump leaves office on Wednesday, when Mr Joe Biden is sworn in as the nation’s next president. 

Mr Trump also pardoned rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black who were prosecuted on federal weapons offences, as well as former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges, a senior administration official said. 

Bannon, who was a key adviser in Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential run, was charged last year with swindling Mr Trump supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the president’s wall on the US-Mexico border.  

Bannon’s indictment represented a remarkable fall from grace for the onetime leader of Breitbart News who was a key architect of Mr Trump’s 2016 election victory and an adviser during the president’s first months in office.

Despite portraying the “We Build the Wall” campaign as a volunteer effort, Mr Bannon received more than US$1 million (S$1.33 million) from the group and used some of it to pay personal expenses, prosecutors said.

Donations were used to pay a salary to the group’s founder, a disabled Air Force veteran named Brian Kolfage, who’d promised he would “not take a penny,” prosecutors said.

“The defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalising on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

Bannon pleaded not guilty during an August court hearing and had been free on a US$5 million bond while awaiting trial. He faced as many as 20 years in prison on each of the two counts against him, though it’s rare for the maximum sentence to be imposed.

White House officials had advised Mr Trump against pardoning Bannon. 

The two men have lately rekindled their relationship as Mr Trump sought support for his unproven claims of voter fraud, an official familiar with the situation said.

Bannon, 67, is the latest prominent political ally to receive clemency from Mr Trump, who has often used the powers of the executive branch to reward loyalists and punish his enemies. 

Mr Trump previously pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his conversation with the former Russian ambassador, and he commuted the prison term for Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress during its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

Bannon can still be charged in state court in New York, where a pardon would not help him, said Mr Daniel Alonso, a former prosecutor now at the Buckley law firm.

Fraud prosecutions are frequently brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Mr Alonso said. 

Lil Wayne, 38, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr, pleaded guilty in federal court in December to illegally possessing a firearm and faced up to 10 years in prison.

He has expressed support for Mr Trump’s criminal justice reform efforts. 

Kodak Black, 23, who was born Bill Kahan Kapri, is in federal prison for making a false statement in order to buy a firearm.   

Bastion Balance Seoul.