WASHINGTON, DC -- President Donald Trump pardoned his former chief strategist Steve Bannon in a last-minute decision made only hours before he was scheduled to depart the White House for the final time.
Bannon's name was on contained a list of 73 pardons and 70 commutations believed to the last batch of the Trump presidency.
"Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen," read a statement released by the White House late Tuesday night in announcing his pardon.
Bannon faces a federal case that began in August when New York federal prosecutors charged him and three others with defrauding donors of more than a million dollars - for their own personal expenses - as part of a "We Build The Wall" fundraising campaign, purportedly aimed at supporting Trump's border wall.
He did not immediately respond to questions late Tuesday night.
Bannon has repeatedly claimed that his actions were only meant to support the president -- but in an ironic twist, many of those who were allegedly defrauded were among the president's most ardent rank-and-file supporters.
“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Twitter. “And if that all sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”
Bannon's pardon followed a frantic scramble during the President's final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump's outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump's conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President's children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been "treasonous" by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump "dumb as a brick." Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had "lost his mind."
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency," Trump said at the time.
Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump's inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
One concern that had stalled debate over the pardon was Bannon's possible connection to the riot of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, a source familiar with the discussions said.
"All hell is going to break loose tomorrow," Bannon promised listeners of his podcast -- "War Room" -- on January 5, the day before the deadly siege on the Capitol.
The day after Bannon's comments, Trump urged supporters to go to the Capitol because the election "was stolen from you, from me and from the country."
A senior Trump adviser indicated that Trump and Bannon had communicated in recent weeks.
While some advisers believed it was decided last weekend that Bannon was not getting a pardon, Trump continued to raise it into Tuesday night. Throughout the day, Trump had continued to contemplate pardons that aides believed were settled, including for his former strategist -- something he continued to go back and forth on into late Tuesday night.
Ultimately, Trump sided with Bannon.
A voice of nationalist, outsider conservatism, Bannon — who served in the Navy and worked at Goldman Sachs and as a Hollywood producer before turning to politics — led the conservative Breitbart News before being tapped to serve as chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 campaign in its critical final months.
Bannon was credited as a driving force behind Trump's populist appeal, nationalist ideology and controversial policies.
He returned to Breitbart, trafficking in right-wing incendiary headlines after leaving the White House, but left again in 2018.
In August, Bannon was pulled from a luxury yacht off the coast of Connecticut and brought before a judge in Manhattan, where he pleaded not guilty. When he emerged from the courthouse, Bannon tore off his mask, smiled and waved to news cameras. As he went to a waiting vehicle, he shouted, “This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.”
The organizers of the “We Build The Wall” group portrayed themselves as eager to help the president build a “big beautiful” barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he promised during the 2016 campaign. They raised more than $25 million from thousands of donors and pledged that 100% of the money would be used for the project.
But according to the criminal charges, much of the money never made it to the wall. Instead, it was used to line the pockets of group members, including Bannon.
In addition to Bannon, Trump late Tuesday night also pardoned two other longtime political allies, Elliott Broidy and Paul Erickson, in a move that will further solidify Trump's legacy of using his sweeping presidential powers to benefit his inner circle.
Since Trump's election defeat, the President had leaned further into his expansive pardon powers -- previously granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort among others.