Steve Bannon was arrested this morning on fraud charges by the SDNY. In a delicious fit of irony, Bannon was arrested for scamming people into believing that he was building Donald Trump’s border wall – and he was arrested by Post Office agents because mail fraud was involved. As fun as it is to see a monster like Bannon go down, the bigger story here is how this impacts Donald Trump.
Steve Bannon ran the final few months of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he helped run the first several months of Trump’s White House. In other words, he knows where the bodies are buried. Bannon has so much dirt on Trump, his family, and his advisers, he can likely cut quite a lenient plea deal if he gives them all up. Moreover, Bannon has already testified against Roger Stone, making clear that he’s willing to sell anyone out in order to try to save himself.
Up to now, Trump has gone out of his way to try to avoid pardoning any of his own co-conspirators, for fear of scandalous headlines. Trump did commute Roger Stone’s sentence, thus making sure the word “pardon” didn’t appear in those headlines. But that required waiting until Stone was convicted and sentenced, and then commuting him. By the time Bannon is convicted, Trump will likely be gone from office – so Bannon will be looking for a pardon.
In fact Bannon will probably want his pardon soon. Trump will want to at least wait to do it until the day after election day. But by then Bannon’s leverage with the Feds for a lenient plea deal could be gone, and if it turns out Trump was lying about pardoning, then Bannon will rot in prison for years.
So it’s likely that Donald Trump will now quickly have to decide whether to pardon Steve Bannon at a time when he doesn’t need those headlines, or whether to sit back and do nothing while Bannon sells Trump out to the Feds. We’re not sure which way Trump will go with it, but the results will be ugly for him either way.
Speaking of the Feds, this indictment against Steve Bannon was brought by the SDNY, just weeks after Donald Trump and Bill Barr tried (and failed) to install their own people at SDNY. At the time we all strongly suspected they were trying to prevent the SDNY from imminently arresting one or more of Trump’s own people. Now we know that one of them was Bannon. Are there more arrests around the corner? It’s now 100% clear that the SDNY is still fully functioning – and afraid of no one.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report