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President Donald Trump reacted to news about the arrest Thursday of Steve Bannon, a former top political adviser whom he drove out of the administration just months after taking office.
The president said he felt “very bad” about Bannon’s arrest, but also added that he hasn’t dealt with him “for a very long period of time.”
The Justice Department announced earlier Thursday that Bannon was among four people arrested in connection with the “We Build The Wall” organization, a private endeavor established to build sections of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The four, including ‘Wall’ founder Brian Kolfage, as well as associates Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, were charged with defrauding donors by illegally funneling money into their own accounts through no one was supposed to receive compensation.
“I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time,” the president told reporters at a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. “I haven’t been dealing with him at all.”
While noting that he didn’t “know anything about the project at all,” Trump added that he nevertheless “didn’t like” it.
“I thought it was being done for showboating reasons,” he said.
“As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing 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 U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss with the Southern District of New York said, according to the DoJ statement.
“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” Strauss continued.
“The defendants allegedly engaged in fraud when they misrepresented the true use of donated funds,” added Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service.
“As alleged, not only did they lie to donors, they schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds by creating sham invoices and accounts to launder donations and cover up their crimes, showing no regard for the law or the truth,” Bartlett continued.
“This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist.”
The We Build The Wall organization was founded by Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee who lost his limbs in Iraq. The organization took in more than $25 million in donations, the Justice Department said.
In May 2019, the Bannon-led group built a mile of wall on private land over a single weekend. The construction was overseen by construction mogul Tommy Fisher of North Dakota-based Fisher Industries. The overall cost of the section was $6 million and involved hundreds of workers, Bannon said at the time.
“Border Patrol told us it’s the No. 1 most important mile to close. The tough terrain always left it off the government list,” Bannon told CNN. “And that’s what we focus on — private land that is not in the program and take the toughest first.”
The Justice Department said the alleged defrauding began around December 2018 when the organization was founded.
“In particular, to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised . . . will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization,’” the DoJ said.
“Those representations were false,” the department added, noting further that Kolfage allegedly funneled $350,000 to his personal accounts, while Bannon is accused of taking more than $1 million.
I’ve had the displeasure of knowing Bannon for a decade, so not surprised by the news, but I hope the media also focuses on the other dudes involved with swindling people. Watch media try to somehow hang this on POTUS even though he kicked Sloppy Steve to the curb ages ago.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) August 20, 2020
Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump for acting years ago to cut ties with Steve Bannon.
He clearly saw something that made him do it.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) August 20, 2020
Trump supporter John Cardillo appeared to have seen something like this coming:
I’m sorry but I cannot promote this border wall Go Fund Me.
There is no mechanism for this money to actually be used for a wall. No one will know how this money is actually used or where it goes.
And in the end, far left Go Fund Me takes 15%.
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) December 20, 2018
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