Thursday, August 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to distance himself from yet another indicted campaign manager.

Steve Bannon was indicted today in federal court. He and three other defendants are accused of defrauding donors to a non-profit that promised to crowdfund the building of a border fence with Mexico. The US Attorney in the case, Geoffrey Berman, is the same person Trump unsuccessfully tried to purge from the job earlier this summer.

Asked about Bannon's arrest, Trump said this:

Well, I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a long period of time, as most of the people in this room know. He was involved in our campaign, he worked for Goldman Sachs, he worked for a lot of companies, but he was involved likewise in our campaign, and for a small part of the administration very early on.

Bannon was "involved" in the Trump campaign as its CEO. Once Trump took office, his "small part" was as a senior advisor with a national security portfolio usually reserved for military generals and virtually unfettered access to Trump.

Trump also tried to distance himself from the donor-supported "We Build The Wall" scheme that Bannon and his co-defendants siphoned money from. 

I know nothing about the project, other than I didn’t like, when I read about it I didn’t like it. 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.


In reality, it's difficult to keep track of all the ways Trump is involved with Bannon's scheme. The general counsel for the project, failed Senate candidate Kris Kobach, said publicly in 2019 that the private wall had Trump's explicit blessing, which the White House did not deny when asked. Donald Trump Jr., whose main job is as a political surrogate for his father, appeared in a video with one of the people indicted today and praised it as "private enterprise at its finest."

But the most damning connection between Trump and the private fence scheme comes in the form of a $1.4 billion contract awarded to a construction company involved in it. Trump himself "personally and repeatedly" pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to award a lucrative contract for the "real" border fence. 

The beneficiary, Tommy Fisher, is a major Republican donor and conservative media star. Fisher put up at least $25 million towards the private fence scheme, but that appears to have sealed the deal in terms of getting Trump to lean on government contractors.

Bannon joins Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen as top Trump campaign officials indicted for or convicted of federal crimes.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents who care about "law and order" generally have fewer criminals than this running their campaigns.
  • Donors to a cause endorsed by the Trump family whose money was stolen by Trump's campaign manager might not think Trump really "knew nothing" about this.
  • Billion-dollar government contracts should go to the most qualified low bidders, not political cronies who kick money back to a president's other associates.