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Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrested on Chinese billionaire’s yacht, charged with fraud

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Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrested on Chinese billionaire's yacht, charged with fraud

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US President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has been charged with fraud over allegations he ripped off donors to a fundraising campaign to support the building of the US-Mexico border wall.

Mr Bannon was arrested in Connecticut by agents from the prosecutor’s office and the US Postal Inspection Service aboard a 45-metre yacht, according to a law enforcement source who spoke to Reuters.

That yacht, called the Lady May, is owned by Chinese fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui.

Mr Bannon has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court.

Those charged could face up to 40 years in prison.

Mr Bannon had his hands handcuffed in front of him and was wearing a large, white mask covering most of his face during a court appearance in which he pleaded not guilty.

A sketch of a man in handcuffs with blonde hair while wearing a mask
A sketch of Steve Bannon as he listens during his arraignment hearing.(Reuters: Jane Rosenberg)

He rocked back and forth as he sat on a chair in a holding cell at Manhattan federal court, where he appeared via video.

He was released on a $US5 million bail, secured by $US1.75 million in assets.

‘Scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors’

Prosecutors allege that Mr Bannon and three others Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors” in connection with the ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign that raised more than $US25 million ($35 million) to help build the border wall.

Prosecutors said Mr Bannon received more than $US1 million ($1.4 million) of that money, at least some of which he used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses, the indictment said.

According to the indictment, Mr Bannon promised that 100 per cent of the donated money would be used for the border wall project, while Mr Kolfage is alleged to have taken $US350,000.

Mr Kolfage is a triple amputee Air Force veteran who lost both legs and an arm in a rocket attack in Iraq in 2004, according to his personal website.

Prosecutors described him as the public face and founder of the operation.

A triple amputee wheels himself in a parade with his one available hand.
Brian Kolfage lost both his legs and an arm while serving his second deployment in Iraq in 2004.(Reuters: Mike Segar)

The indictment said those involved faked invoices and sham “vendor” arrangements, among other ways, to hide what was really happening.

“While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle,” said Audrey Strauss, the Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

We Build the Wall originally promoted a project for almost 5 kilometres of fence posts in South Texas that was ultimately built and largely funded by Fisher Industries, which has received about $US2 billion ($2.7 billion) in funding for wall contracts.

Workers in hard hats walk pass the border wall prototypes.
Eight prototypes of Donald Trump’s border wall were built near the border in San Diego nine months after he took office.(AP: Gregory Bull)

Mr Trump, who had previously denounced the project, told reporters at the White House he felt bad for Mr Bannon.

“I do think it’s a sad event,” Mr Trump said in the Oval Office.

“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.”

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany reiterated that the President had no involvement with the project.

“[Mr Trump] has not been involved with Steve Bannon since the campaign and the early part of the administration, and he does not know the people involved with this project.”

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Donald Trump calls the arrest of his former chief strategist Steve Bannon “sad”

Steve Bannon’s history with Donald Trump

A composite image of US President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.
Mr Bannon worked with Donald Trump during the early stages of his Presidency.(AP/Reuters)

Mr Bannon led the conservative Breitbart News before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign in its critical final months, when he pushed a scorched earth strategy that included highlighting the stories of former president Bill Clinton’s accusers.

After the election, he served as chief strategist during the turbulent early months of Mr Trump’s administration.

Mr Bannon was the voice of a nationalistic, outsider conservatism, and he pushed Mr Trump to follow through on some of his most contentious campaign promises, including his travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries.

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However Mr Bannon also clashed with other top advisers, and his high profile reportedly sometimes irked the President he was pushed out of Mr Trump’s team in August 2017.

Mr Bannon, who served in the Navy and worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before becoming a Hollywood producer, has been hosting a pro-Trump podcast called War Room that began during the President’s impeachment proceedings and has continued during the pandemic.

The arrests make Mr Bannon the latest addition to a long list of Trump associates who have been prosecuted, including his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, whom Mr Bannon replaced, his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Mr Trump has also made clear that he is willing to use his near-limitless pardon power to help political allies escape legal jeopardy, most recently commuting the sentence of longtime political adviser Roger Stone.

ABC/wires

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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