President Trump has pardoned his former top strategist Steve Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.
In a statement announcing the full pardon, the White House described Bannon as “an important leader in the conservative movement” who “is known for his political acumen” but made no mention of his history with Trump.
The move came after Trump was repeatedly cautioned against granting pardons to Bannon and GOP allies who were implicated in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Bannon’s chances at clemency had reportedly appeared to shrink when lawyers staged an intervention of sorts for Trump on the eve of his White House departure, warning him of potential legal headaches and further scrutiny in his impeachment trial.
But Trump apparently defied the advice of lawyers after going back and forth on whether to pardon his former aide-turned-accused-fraudster. According to The New York Times, Trump made the decision after speaking to Bannon by phone earlier Tuesday.
Trump, who has a track record of pardoning his own friends and allies, went one step further by pardoning Bannon, who has not yet stood trial, let alone been convicted or served time. By pardoning him, Trump has essentially blocked prosecution from taking place.
The move was met with immediate criticism late Tuesday.
“Even Nixon didn’t pardon his cronies on the way out. Amazingly, in his final 24 hours in office, Donald Trump found one more way to fail to live up to the ethical standard of Richard Nixon,” accountability watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a statement.
Bannon was arrested in August for allegedly defrauding donors in the $25 million “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign, which sought to fulfill Trump’s pledge to build a wall with Mexico. Prosecutors accused Bannon and three others of pocketing the donations and using the money for their personal expenses, with the former White House strategist accused of personally skimming off $1 million.
The former chairman of far-right news site Breitbart pleaded not guilty in New York federal court and was released after posting a $5 million bond.
Trump had distanced himself from his former aide following the arrest and stressed that he hadn’t had anything to do with Bannon for a “very long time.”
But in the countdown of his final hours in office on Tuesday, Trump reportedly could not let go of the prospect of pardoning Bannon, repeatedly asking aides about it even after many thought the issue had already been settled and the pardon was a no-go.
Bannon’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riot was seen as a dealbreaker. As The Daily Beast reported, a company with links to Bannon sent out mass text messages “calling all patriots” to head to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.