Trump on Bannon's indictment: I never liked the idea of a private outfit trying to build the wall

It’s true, he did tweet just last month that he disapproved. Although that followed news that the small section of wall funded by Steve Bannon’s group had been built in a half-assed way, too close to the river. The soil around its foundation was already starting to erode. Understandably, Trump didn’t want that pinned on him.

He was asked about it again today after news broke that Bannon and others are facing prison for allegedly using the group as a slush fund. Never liked the idea, said POTUS:

Is it true that he always opposed having a private outfit try to build parts of the wall, though? Bannon’s group, We Build the Wall, was funded by border hawks and other MAGA fans to support Trump’s effort to seal the border. It’s not like Trump to get on the wrong side of his own base.

The NYT asked Kris Kobach, an advisor to WBTW, last year about whether Trump was aware of it. He was, said Kobach: “I talked with the president, and the ‘We Build the Wall Effort’ came up. The president said ‘the project has my blessing, and you can tell the media that.'” Last year the Daily Beast reported that Kobach had been caught sending emails to WBTW donors asking for contributions to his campaign without any designation that it had paid for access to that donor list, raising campaign-finance questions. Imagine how the Kansas Senate race would look today, in the aftermath of multiple indictments linked to WBTW, if Republicans there had nominated Kobach instead of Roger Marshall in the primary a few weeks ago.

According to the Texas Tribune, WBTW co-founder Brian Kolfage also claimed last year that the group enjoyed Trump’s support — quietly. Kolfage was indicted today along with Bannon so you’re well within your rights to assume that he was lying about Trump’s endorsement in order to make his alleged grift more attractive to donors.

In a December video no longer online, Kolfage told Alicia Powe of Gateway Pundit, a far-right news and opinion website, that his group had a back channel to the administration via board member Bannon and general counsel and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who let Trump know what We Build the Wall is doing.

“We’ve gotten the support of the president first hand, we’ve had people to meet with the president who have informed him directly of what’s going on, and President Trump loves what we are doing,” he said.

“But he doesn’t come out and support much because we believe that the leftists will try to use it against him by saying ‘this private industry is doing more than he’s doing’ and things like that, they’ll try to spin it, so we believe that’s why he’s quiet about it up on the forefront but supports us in the back,” he added.

Kolfage repaid that quiet support by joining in the Trump 2020 boat parade last month in Florida; the boat was allegedly paid for with funds from WBTW.

Some Trump family members were less “quiet” about their support:

The Trump Organization responded on behalf of Don Jr:

As for Bannon, the circumstances of his arrest were unusual. He was pinched by the Postal Service while he lounged off the coast of Connecticut on a luxurious yacht owned by exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui:

Reports of Bannon’s relationship with Guo and the feds’ interest in it have been trickling out for weeks now. The most recent story was published yesterday and claimed that the FBI and SEC are looking into the launch of GTV Media, specifically whether the company complied with securities laws in selling $300 million in shares to wealthy investors. Guo is the company’s most public fundraiser and Bannon sits on its board of directors. An obvious question: Was Bannon arrested today for his WGTW work in the hope and expectation that he’ll cooperate with the feds on the GTV investigation?

The fall of one of the right’s noisiest populists has anti-Trumpers settling on a common theme:

Carpenter has other examples in this piece, including the very recent attempt by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell to convince Trump that he has a miracle supplement that’ll cure COVID. I would amend Glassman’s point to say that, while it’s always a grift with populists, it’s frequently a grift with establishmentarians too. Ask any Trump fan who follows politics about Republican pols and the consultant class getting fat for decades off of corporate money to push corporate interests while belching out hosannas to the common man. It would have been harder to nominate and elect a grifter in 2016 if the pre-Trump GOP weren’t bought and paid for by big business. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” Eric Hoffer famously said. The conservative movement has been in the “racket” phase for a long while.

Today’s news is simply a reminder that populism is no cure. It may not be worse than the original grift, but it won’t be better. Whether intended from the start or not, the endgame of populism isn’t draining the swamp, it’s gaining the ability to splash around in it with the same degree of impunity that elites do. But you’ve read history, or at least “Animal Farm.” You don’t need me to tell you how populist revolutions tend to go.

Now we wait to see whether Trump will end up issuing a corrupt pardon for his former crony Bannon or if Bill Barr will simply interfere corruptly at the sentencing phase to lighten Bannon’s punishment, like he did with Roger Stone and Mike Flynn. One lingering question that reporters are working on right now, I’m sure, is whether the Bannon investigation had anything to do with Barr’s curious haste in ousting former U.S. Attorney Richard Berman at the SDNY in June. Barr initially wanted to replace Berman with SEC chief and Trump golf buddy Jay Clayton. When Berman made a fuss, Barr was forced to abandon that plan; instead Berman was succeeded by longtime SDNY deputy Audrey Strauss, who’s well respected and who announced Bannon’s indictment. I don’t think the Berman business had anything to do with Bannon, as Bannon hasn’t been part of the Trump inner circle for awhile, but Bannon might be able to fill in certain blanks on Trump and/or Trump’s inner circle at the SDNY, which has been reportedly looking at Rudy Giuliani and God knows who else. Maybe Trump doesn’t want Bannon under pressure for too long. We’ll see.