Donald Trump has pardoned his former chief adviser who is accused of defrauding supporters who pledged money to build a wall along the Mexico border.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House adviser and senior campaign strategist, was lauded for being the brains behind Donald Trump’s rise to the White House and is the self-proclaimed architect of the candidate’s xenophobic brand of populism.
He is among 143 people to have been pardoned or have their prison sentence commuted by the outgoing president including rapper Lil Wayne, rapper Kodak Black, a disgraced former mayor of Detroit and a former senior member of the Republican National Committee.
Bannon, 67, made the cut in a last-minute decision by the president, The New York Times reports.
It was initially expected that Trump wouldn’t pardon his former friend and ally, but at the 11th hour was seemingly convinced it could benefit him to do so.
According to the Times, the president made the decision after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including in phone calls with Bannon.
“A lot of frantic back and forth today about it,” Times reporter Maggie Haberman said on Twitter following the report.
“Trump ultimately seems to have decided that a) Bannon could be useful to him in some way in the future and ... b) That the people who hate Bannon - the establishment - have now turned against Trump in some way, and he needs to have someone on his side.”
Bannon has pleaded not guilty to charges that he defrauded donors to “We Build the Wall,” an online fundraising campaign that raised US$25 million with promises to build a wall on the southern border of the US. He stands accused of using the funds for personal expenses.
In August, he was arrested by federal agents while on board a 45-metre yacht called the Lady May, owned by Chinese fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui, Reuters reported at the time.
Bannon was unceremoniously dumped by the White House, with president Trump disavowing him in a brutal 2018 statement.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump said at the time.
However a statement from the White House regarding his preemptive pardon was decidedly more glowing: “Mr Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen,” it said.
Rapper Lil Wayne pardoned, Tiger King misses out
As his final act in office, Trump granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted the sentences of an additional 70 individuals.
New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne who is serving time in jail on gun charges, but also endorsed the outgoing president before the November election, has been pardoned.
The White House said the pardon for Lil Wayne was endorsed by former NFL star and Trump friend Deion Sanders.
Fellow rapper Kodak Black, who was also serving time on gun possession charges, had his sentence commuted by the president.
“This commutation is supported by numerous religious leaders ... Additional supporters include Bernie Kerik, Hunter Pollack, Gucci Mane, Lil Pump, Lil Yachty, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, Jack Brewer formerly of the National Football League, and numerous other notable community leaders,” the White House said.
Despite some high expectations, Joe Exotic, who gained notoriety for his crimes and outlandish behaviour in the Netflix documentary Tiger King was not pardoned by the president.
Notably, Trump commuted the sentence of disgraced former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who received a 28 year prison sentence after being convicted in 2013 on multiple corruption crimes, including racketeering, bribery, extortion and fraud.
Trump also issued a full pardon for Elliott Broidy, the former deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee. The prominent Republican fundraiser and political ally of the president pleaded guilty to receiving millions in bribes with a promise to use his influence over Trump, in violation of foreign lobbying laws.
Trump also commuted the service of Death Row records co-founder Michael “Harry-O” Harris who has served 30 years in jail for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The president was reportedly lobbied to do so by Snoop Dog.
Trump did not pardon himself or any members of his family.
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