Politics, Moderate



Bannon’s arrest on fraud charges shows Trump’s world is an endless con

By Rex Huppke, Tribune Content Agency on

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, has always looked and sounded to me like someone who should be arrested for fleecing rubes.

On Thursday, his destiny was realized.

Bannon became the latest person in Trump’s orbit to get arrested, charged along with three other Trump enthusiasts and accused of defrauding “hundreds of thousands of donors” through an online crowdfunding campaign that claimed it was raising money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The supposedly nonprofit group, praised by Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas and other Republicans, raised more than $25 million in an online campaign promising to privately build the border wall President Trump has long said he would build. (Speaking of cons, remember how Mexico was going to pay for the wall?)

Despite guarantees that We Build the Wall officials would not draw a salary and every penny would go to erecting a giant monument to xenophobia, federal prosecutors in New York allege Bannon received more than $1 million. The prosecutors say the face of We Build the Wall, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, received hundreds of thousands of dollars, using donor money to pay for, among other things, a boat named “Warfighter.” A boat bearing that name and featured in several of Kolfage’s social media posts was used in a recent pro-Trump boat parade in Florida.

As with most things in the Trump era, this alleged scam always looked like something that would eventually be revealed as a scam. And it makes sense that Bannon was in the middle of it all.

Like the president he served, Bannon has the patter of a con man and the fearmongering skill of a white nationalist out to make a buck. And now he joins the lengthy list of Trump associates either charged with or convicted of a crime: former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn; longtime Trump fixer and attorney Michael Cohen; longtime Trump associate Roger Stone; former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates; former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos.

It seems like only a matter of time before Trump starts marketing “Make America Great Again” electronic ankle monitors.

What’s most surprising about Bannon’s arrest, the transparently crooked We Build the Wall scheme and the fact that Attorney General William Barr, a couple of months before these new charges were filed in the Southern District of New York, tried and failed to replace the U.S. attorney who runs that district with a Trump lackey, is that it’s all wholly unsurprising.


Trump is a con artist. He is surrounded by grifters and con artists. With every statement or promise the president utters, the question is not, “Is he lying?” The question is, “To what degree is he lying and what angle is he working?”

He has promised a wall. There’s no wall. He has repeatedly promised a health care plan “in a couple weeks.” Dozens upon dozens of “a couple weeks” have passed and there is no health care plan. He has promoted a coronavirus drug that has been proven ineffective and even dangerous.

He could roll up to next week’s Republican National Convention in a horse-drawn wagon selling vials of miraculous elixir and it would surprise absolutely no one. (And he’d surely sell every drop of elixir.)

As for the Americans getting fleeced? No matter. To the Bannons and Trumps of the world, they’re mere marks. Suckers.

So now Trump will either disavow Bannon and the others charged Thursday, or he’ll say they’re being treated “very unfairly” and wave the possibility of pardons.

He’ll do what any lifelong con artist or magic elixir vendor would do: whatever is necessary to keep his own con going.


Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at rhuppke@tribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.)




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