President Trump on Thursday rushed to distance himself from his former strategist Steve Bannon after he was arrested this morning for his involvement in ‘We Build The Wall’ – an allegedly fraudulent multi-million dollar GoFundMe scheme to build a private US-Mexico border wall.
Bannon was indicted and arrested on Thursday along with fellow ‘We Build The Wall’ organizers Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea for what federal prosecutors describe as a “scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors” on the pretense of building a private border wall in response to Congress blocking Trump’s efforts.
“I don’t know anything about the project at all,” Trump told reporters when asked about the arrest. Trump added that he doesn’t like what he read about it and thinks it’s “showboating” by Bannon and Kolfage, according to New York Times reporter Michael Shear.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany asserted that Trump has “no involvement” in the project and “disagreed” with efforts to build the wall privately, noting that Trump has “always felt” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should build the wall.
But Trump and McEnany’s statements contradict claims made by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the general counsel of We Build The Wall, in January 2019 that Trump gave the project his “blessing,” as well as Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.’s public praise of the project as a “pretty amazing” effort for an “important grassroots issue” at a 2018 fundraiser, according to video shared by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski.
According to The Washington Post, Trump also “personally and repeatedly” lobbied for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a $1.28 billion wall-building contract to Fisher Industries, a politically-connected firm that was also helping We Build The Wall build a private portion of the wall.
As Forbes notes: “The company, which is not mentioned in the indictment, is run by GOP donor and frequent Fox News guest Tommy Fisher and won the contract after it “captured Trump’s attention” and was “repeatedly touted” by him.”
According to the Post, the company has donated to Trump’s GOP allies and networked with key people within his sphere. Fisher also paid lobbyists to discuss the wall with lawmakers and touted the firm’s design on news outlets often watched by Trump, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The company has one other major border wall contract, for $400 million, that’s currently under investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general.
The federal watchdog confirmed to the Post that the review was still in process. It began after congressional Democrats voiced concerns that the White House exerted inappropriate influence on the bidding process.