“I am not going to back down. This is a political hit job. Everybody knows I love a fight,” Bannon said on an episode of his show “War Room.” “I was called ‘honey badger’ for many years. You know, ‘Honey badger doesn’t give.’ So, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m in this for the fight.”…
Upon exiting a Manhattan courthouse on Thursday, Bannon declared his arrest a baseless political ploy designed to halt the construction of the wall — a theme he returned to on his Friday broadcast.
“This is to stop and intimidate people that have President Trump’s back on building the wall. We are never going to stop pushing the wall,” Bannon said.”This stuff is complete nonsense. I am not going to back down one inch.”
If you’re willing to line your pockets with money from well-meaning grandmas who just wanted to secure the border — allegedly — then you’re certainly willing to tell those same grandmas your arrest is a sinister plot by the open-borders lobby and its enforcers.
There are two things to bear in mind about Bannon’s legal predicament. First, he’s not the only defendant. Second, this isn’t a light sentence he’s staring it. Whenever someone is arrested for a white-collar crime, it’s natural to assume that they’ll get off with a wrist slap, as that assumption is frequently correct. Not so much in this case, says former prosecutor Elie Honig.
From Bannon’s perspective, it’s one thing to defend a case that turns on subtle issues of subjective intent, or that rest on testimony from other co-conspirators. But it’s much harder to defend a case based on black-and-white financial documents. A good defense lawyer can cross-examine a witness and try to take apart his story — but it’s much harder to argue with phony invoices and forged receipts.
The outlook for Bannon is bleak. He can go to trial, of course, but the vast majority of federal trials result in conviction. He can plead guilty and hope for a slightly lower sentence than if he is convicted by a jury. Largely because of the amount of the alleged] fraud — here, prosecutors say, over $25 million — Bannon, if convicted, is looking at a sentence of at least approximately seven to nine years under the federal sentencing guidelines (which are important but not binding on a judge), or slightly less if he accepts responsibility and pleads guilty.
Or Bannon can try to cooperate with the SDNY — which could offer him his best chance at a significant sentencing reduction.
It’d be one thing if Bannon were 40 and looking at six months, say, for his involvement in the alleged “We Build the Wall” scheme. In that case he might reasonably calculate that it’s in his long-term interest to burnish his brand as a populist fighter by going to trial and taking his chances. If he’s convicted, he’s out in no time and can go right back to telling his populist fans that he was railroaded by Amnesty Inc. Grandma will believe him. Maybe?
“I feel taken,” said 56-year-old Barbara Copeland, a Trump supporter in South Carolina who said she donated $100 to We Build the Wall last year. “I too fell for [Kolfage’s claims that he was] never going to use a dime of it for personal use.”
Copeland had spent months aggressively promoting the fundraiser on social media and said she had repeatedly encouraged her friends and family members to donate.
“I do not donate just willy-nilly, I checked it out — or so I thought,” she added, noting that in retrospect the “lavish lifestyle” Kolfage flaunted on his Instagram account could have been a warning sign. “To say that I’m upset is a gross understatement.”
The scheme even ripped off children. One of the biggest donors to We Build the Wall was a 7-year-old in Texas who set up a hot chocolate stand so he could collect donations for the effort.
The problem is, Bannon is 66. If he gets a stiff sentence, he might not see freedom again until his mid-70s. Meanwhile, there are three other defendants who are part of this same scheme facing the same prisoner’s dilemma that he’s facing: They can reduce their own sentences by agreeing to testify for the feds against the rest. Since Bannon is the biggest name among the four, it’s an open question whether the SDNY would even seek to flip him against the other three or if they’re recruiting among the other three to nail the big prize, Bannon himself.
When Bannon says he intends to fight, in other words, it may be because he has no choice. He can plead or he can go to trial, but there may be no deals on the table.
…Unless, of course, he has information about crimes committed beyond the scope of the “We Build the Wall” scheme. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the FBI and SEC have been looking at his involvement in a media company linked to the Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. That company is suspected of having violated securities laws in how it placed shares with wealthy donors. If Bannon has something for them on that, maybe he’ll get a deal after all.
But then, taking a deal would mean he’s not “fighting,” wouldn’t it?
The real intrigue relates to whether he has anything on Trump or his associates. Giving up a top member of MAGA royalty would ruin whatever cred he has left among populists, but if he’s forced to choose between a long stretch in prison with the respect of Trump fans and living life as a free (and very rich) man who’s held in contempt by them, it’s not a hard choice. Remember too that Bannon isn’t known for following some rigid code of omerta with respect to Trump. He’s notorious for leaking, sometimes even going on the record to dish dirt; in fact, that’s what landed him on the outs with Trump in the first place.
There’s another possibility. Maybe Bannon has something on Trump or the Trump family, and Trump knows it, and Bannon knows that Trump knows it and is calculating that that’ll eventually land him the same sort of corrupt clemency that Roger Stone received. In other words, maybe Bannon intends to fight the charges in the belief that even if he’s convicted Trump will spring him before long. If so, that’s a ludicrously high-stakes gamble. Trump’s feelings about Bannon appear to be mixed at best and Bannon has powerful enemies in Trump’s inner circle, most notably Jared Kushner. Maybe Trump would pardon him, maybe not. Manafort’s still in prison, isn’t he? Michael Cohen had dirt on Trump and he didn’t get a pardon aimed at inducing him to clam up with the feds, right?
Maybe Bannon can use this logic as his defense:
Steve Bannon had an estimated worth of $48 million in 2017 according to Forbes and a purported stake in Seinfeld syndication. Unless absolutely mad, why would he grift $1 million in a build the wall scheme?
— Jack Shafer (@jackshafer) August 21, 2020
I get what Shafer means, but at bottom his point is “Rich people would never steal. They have no need!” If only the world worked that way.
I’ll leave you with this amazing clip from last year of Bannon and “We Build the Wall” co-founder — and now co-defendant — Brian Kolfage, in which Bannon blurts out the whole point of the alleged fraud and laughs it off as a joke. Think we’ll see this played at his trial?
Folks, this really happened. pic.twitter.com/EviEJCGvs7
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) August 21, 2020