Trump seeks distance from Bannon, calls fundraising project ‘inappropriate’
President Trump sought to distance himself from Stephen Bannon on Thursday following the former White House chief strategist’s arrest, with Trump saying he hasn’t dealt with Bannon in a long time and calling a fundraising project for which Bannon and three others were indicted “inappropriate.”
“I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time, as most of the people in this room know,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, adding that Bannon only served for a small period of time in the administration after working on his 2016 campaign as CEO.
Trump said that he has no knowledge about the “We Build The Wall” fundraising campaign that Bannon was involved in but said that he disagreed with the project primarily because it purported to raise private funds in order to pay for the construction of the wall at the southern border with Mexico.
Bannon and three others were charged with fraud by federal prosecutors in New York in connection with their work for the project.
“I didn’t like it, it was showboating and maybe looking for funds. But you’ll have to see what happens,” Trump said when asked about the developments during a meeting with Iraq’s prime minister just hours after the charges were revealed.
“It was something that I very much felt was inappropriate to be doing,” Trump added.
Bannon served as chief operating officer of Trump’s 2016 campaign and went onto work as chief strategist in the White House. He was ousted by Trump in August 2017, less than eight months into the president’s term.
Bannon found himself under criticism from Trump and other Republicans as a result of comments he made about the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., for Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury.”
On Thursday morning, the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York announced that Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea had been arrested and charged with allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors of the online crowdfunding campaign called “We Build The Wall” that netted more than $25 million.
The men face charges that include one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.
Trump said he didn’t know any of the men who were charged alongside Bannon and said he didn’t believe he ever met them. He called the developments a “very sad thing” for Bannon, noting that his former adviser had a “great career” at Goldman Sachs and working for other people.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany separately released a statement saying that Trump had “no involvement” in the project and that he disapproved of it. McEnany pointed to a July 2020 tweet in which Trump said a reportedly defective section of the border wall constructed with funding from the “We Build The Wall” project had been built to embarrass him.
“I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads,” Trump wrote in the July 12 tweet. “It was only done to make me look bad, and perhaps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles.”
However, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), an advisory board member for the group, told The New York Times last year that Trump gave the group his “blessing.”
The “We Build The Wall” website currently features a testimonial from the president’s son Trump Jr. A spokeswoman for Trump Jr., Amanda Miller, said that he gave one speech at a “We Build The Wall” event more than a year ago and otherwise is not involved with the organization. Miller also said that he did not give the organization permission to use him as a testimonial on its website and was unaware of it until Thursday.
“His previous praise of the group was based on what he was led to believe about their supposed intention to help build the wall on the southern border and if he and others were deceived, the group deserves to be held accountable for their actions,” Miller said.
Bannon is among a handful of members of Trump’s inner circle who have faced federal charges and is the second high-level White House official to be charged with a crime after former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Updated: 1:22 p.m.