U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned his former strategist and far-right figurehead Steve Bannon, early Wednesday, but declined to grant clemency to himself or members of his family as had been feared.
Trump’s decision to grant clemency to Bannon, reported earlier Tuesday night by CNN, Bloomberg and Reuters, came after earlier reports that he had been talked out of it by his aides. Yet even those reports admitted the question was still open throughout the day, with Trump continuing to bring up the possibility.
Bannon’s name was the most high profile inclusion on a list of 73 pardons and 70 commutations released early Wednesday morning by the White House. The pardons had been expected to be released on Tuesday, Trump’s final full day in office before President-elect Joe Biden takes over at noon Wednesday.
Other notable names included rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black — both of whom have been prosecuted on federal weapons charges — as well as a number of Republican officials and Trump allies convicted of white collar crimes.
Death Row Records co-founder Michael Harris and New York art dealer and collector Hillel Nahmad were also included.
So was former Rep. Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican who was sentenced to three years for corruption, money laundering and other charges, and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, who was convicted of accepting bribes from defence contractors. Cunningham, who was released from prison in 2013, received a conditional pardon.
A full pardon was given to Elliot Broidy, a former top fundraiser for Trump during the 2016 campaign who pleaded guilty last year to violating foreign lobbying laws. Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges, also received a pardon. So did Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce; and Anthony Levandowski, the former lead engineer for Google’s self-driving car technology who was accused of stealing secrets about the program, and pleaded guilty to one of 33 theft charges.
Yet not included on the list were Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, members of Trump’s family or Trump himself. Fears of a self-pardon have dogged his presidency for years as reports emerged that it was being floated within the White House, though many legal experts have insisted it could not be done.
The list also didn’t include any of the rioters, including some state and local Republican lawmakers, who stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier this month to contest the presidential election — some of whom were holding out hope for a last-minute pardon.
Bannon — who helped build the right-wing news website Breitbart and ran Trump’s 2016 campaign in its final months — was charged in August 2020 with duping thousands of investors who believed their money would be used to fulfil Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border.
Instead, Bannon was accused of diverting over a million dollars, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In August, he was pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and brought before a judge in Manhattan, where he pleaded not guilty. When he emerged from the courthouse, Bannon tore off his mask, smiled and waved to news cameras. As he went to a waiting vehicle, he shouted, “This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.”
“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Twitter. “And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”
Bannon, a chief architect of Trump’s Muslim travel ban in 2017 and other stances on immigration, left the White House eight months into Trump’s term but remained a close ally as he returned to his media career.
He was briefly expelled from Trump’s inner circle in 2018 when he was quoted in author Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury criticizing members of Trump’s family. He claimed that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort during the campaign was “treasonous,” and called Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.”
Trump issued a lengthy statement from the White House after the quotes were published that severed ties with Bannon, claiming he “has lost his mind” and “has nothing to do with me or my presidency.” Bannon left his leadership position at Breitbart shortly afterwards, and apologized for his comments.
Despite the fallout, Bannon has continued to defend the president in the media and was later welcomed back to the fold as an unofficial advisor during Trump’s re-election campaign. He has also parroted Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and conspiracy since November’s election and has encouraged his former boss to keep fighting to overturn the results.
Trump told reporters that he felt “very badly” for Bannon after his arrest last August.
Trump has already pardoned a number of longtime associates and supporters in the final weeks of his presidency, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; the father of his son-in-law, Charles Kushner; his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone; and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Also pardoned were four military contractors for Blackwater who were convicted of murder for the 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians during the Iraq war.
–With files from the Associated Press and Reuters