Manhattan DA considers prosecution after Trump pardon

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court, following his arraignment hearing for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in New York, August 20, 2020.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is considering whether to prosecute Steve Bannon for state crimes on the heels of the former senior White House advisor receiving a pardon in a federal criminal case from then-President Donald Trump.

The inquiry by District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office underscores the double-edged sword of presidential pardons, which only apply to federal crimes, not to state cases.

Bannon, who at one point ran Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was charged last year with several other men in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with defrauding donors who had contributed millions of dollars to a private group that ostensibly planned to use the money to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon himself pocketed more than $1 million in funds donated to the “We Build the Wall” project.

The former head of the right-wing Breitbart News, who denied the allegations, was one of dozens of people pardoned by Trump on Jan. 18, two days before Trump left office.

None of Bannon’s three co-defendants in the federal criminal case was pardoned by Trump, leaving them to face an upcoming trial.

The Washington Post on Tuesday night first reported that the Manhattan DA office’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau is investigating whether Bannon can be prosecuted for New York state crimes in connection with We Build the Wall.

A source familiar with the investigation confirmed that report to WNBC on Wednesday.

The source said the DA’s office is assembling documents as part of that probe.

A defense lawyer and spokeswoman for Bannon did not immediately respond to CNBC when asked about the investigation.

A spokesman for Vance declined to comment.

Vance’s office currently is seeking to reinstate state fraud and other criminal charges it had lodged against Trump’s other 2016 campaign chief, Paul Manafort, in 2019.

A judge ruled in late 2019 that Vance’s prosecution of Manafort was barred by double jeopardy, since he had been convicted in federal court of crimes related to the conduct that were the subject of the DA’s case.

Vance’s office is trying to get the ruling reversed.

Manafort also was pardoned by Trump for his federal crimes last month.

The DA’s office is currently criminally investigating Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, in connection with a number of issues, including how the firm valued a Westchester County property for certain purposes.

Vance’s office also is looking into how the company accounted for hush-money payments made shortly before the 2016 election to two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump. He has denied their allegations.

Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a subpoena for his income tax returns and other financial documents that a Manhattan grand jury issued to Trump’s longtime accountants at the DA’s behest.

The Supreme Court, which previously rejected a similar effort to block that subpoena, has yet to say whether it will even consider Trump’s latest request.

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