The details are filling in on the surprise arrest of Steve Bannon Thursday morning on accusations that he and others ripped off donors who gave money to their "We Build the Wall" online campaign. The central allegation: Bannon and three other defendants “defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” says Audrey Strauss, acting United States attorney in Manhattan, per the New York Times. Coverage:
- On a boat: The feds arrested Bannon in an unusual place: aboard a 150-foot yacht on Long Island Sound off the coast of Westbrook, Connecticut, reports NBC News. Another nugget: He was arrested by the US Postal Inspection Service.
- Trump distances: President Trump called the arrest of his former chief strategist "very sad" and said he did not know the others involved. He added that he never liked the premise of crowdfunding a border wall. "I know nothing about the project, other than I didn't like, when I read about it, I didn't like it," he said. "I said this is for government, this isn't for private people, and it sounded to me like showboating, and I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time."
- Others: The three others arrested are Brian Kolfage, 38, an Air Force veteran.; financier Andrew Badolato, 56; and Timothy Shea, 49. Kolfage is the founder of the group, and prosecutors say he received $350,000 in compensation to fund a "lavish lifestyle" despite repeatedly telling donors he would take nothing. Bannon is accused of illegally receiving $1 million through the group and using it to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses. Shea is accused of operating a shell company through which payments were routed.
- No. 6: Bannon is the sixth person in the upper echelon of Trump's 2016 to face federal charges, notes Axios. The others: Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen. The latter five were charged in relation to the Robert Mueller investigation.
- The indictment: Read it here. It says the campaign raised more than $25 million for a border wall in part because Bannon and Kolfage insisted they would take no compensation. "Those representations were false." Vox has a further explainer: Kolfage started the campaign on GoFundMe, and Bannon came into the picture when funds began pouring in and he needed help running the project.
- Notable office: The indictment came out of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. A Washington Post analysis says this raises more questions about Attorney General William Barr's move to oust US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman two months ago, given that another Trump ally has been indicted.
- More trouble: The Wall Street Journal reports that a media company linked to Bannon is under federal and New York state investigation over $300 million it raised in a private offering. The company is GTV Media Group, which is also affiliated with Chinese businessman Guo Wengui. Investors say they never received documentation verifying their investments, and the FBI and other investigators are looking into whether securities laws were broken.
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