The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Steve Bannon’s fraud case dismissed after months of haggling over Trump pardon

A fraud case against Stephen K. Bannon has been dismissed by a federal judge in New York. President Donald Trump pardoned Bannon, a conservative provocateur and former Trump adviser.
A fraud case against Stephen K. Bannon has been dismissed by a federal judge in New York. President Donald Trump pardoned Bannon, a conservative provocateur and former Trump adviser. (Danny Moloshok/AP File)
Placeholder while article actions load

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Monday formally dismissed the fraud case against Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative provocateur and ex-adviser to President Donald Trump, ending months of litigation over how the court system should handle his pardon while related criminal cases remain unresolved.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres, citing examples of other cases being dismissed following a presidential reprieve, granted Bannon’s application — saying in a seven-page ruling that Trump’s pardon was valid and that “dismissal of the Indictment is the proper course.”

Bannon was charged with fraud last year alongside three others in what prosecutors described as a massive fundraising scam targeting the donors of a private campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bannon was accused of pocketing more than $1 million from his involvement with “We Build the Wall” while representing to the organization’s backers that all of the money was being used for construction.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was charged Aug. 20, 2020 with defrauding donors to an online fundraising campaign to build a border wall. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

In her decision Tuesday, the judge pointed to past judicial discussions on pardons and what they imply about individuals who receive one. She quoted from a New Jersey court that, in 1833, found that “pardon implies guilt.”

“If there be no guilt, there is no ground for forgiveness. … A party is acquitted on the ground of innocence; he is pardoned through favor,” it says, according to Torres’s ruling.

Bannon’s attorney Robert Costello said in a statement, “The judge clearly reached the right result. An unconditional pardon should always result in the dismissal of the indictment. Finality should result in finality.”

Steve Bannon is battling federal prosecutors who won’t dismiss his case after Trump’s pardon

It is unclear whether the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which brought the case, intends to appeal the judge’s ruling. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Trump pardoned Bannon in late January as one of his last acts as president. Costello argued that dismissing a case outright after a presidential pardon was common practice, and he had urged Torres to follow the lead of federal judges in New York and elsewhere who cleared cases from the docket formally after a defendant was granted clemency. In one court filing, Bannon’s legal team cited several post-pardon dismissals including that of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser who admitted he lied to the FBI during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The U.S. attorney’s office argued that a presidential pardon does not require that the case be outright dismissed — just that the prosecution be aborted. Prosecutors told the judge in April that “there is no need for action beyond terminating Bannon from the docket because the presidential pardon has been docketed in this case and speaks for itself.”

Bannon’s three co-defendants were not issued pardons and are preparing to stand trial in federal court. All have denied wrongdoing. Separately, New York state investigators opened a case after Trump’s pardon.