A federal judge has postponed the long-anticipated trial of the three remaining defendants associated with We Build the Wall, a crowdfunding effort to build a U.S.-Mexico barrier that led to the thwarted prosecution of ex-White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Though Donald Trump pardoned Bannon in the waning days of his presidency, three other men affiliated with the charity remain, and the top defendant, the charity’s founder Brian Kolfage, has a new lawyer. That attorney, César de Castro, noted that he needs to sift through more than 800,000 pages of discovery material provided by the government,and he asked U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres to postpone the trial, which was originally scheduled for November.
Prosecutors had no objection to that request, which Judge Torres granted on Thursday.
The brief ruling, setting the stage for a jury trial between “mid to late March 2022,” throws another wrench in a prosecution marked by delay and political intrigue.
Roughly one year ago on Aug. 20, 2020, federal prosecutors in New York accused Kolfage, Bannon, and We Build the Wall’s other officials Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea of conspiring to defraud the charity’s donors and launder the money. The charity had promised donors that every cent raised would help build the barrier. But prosecutors claimed that Bannon pocketed $1 million and that Kolfage took $350,000 plus went on a spending spree to buy a Jupiter Marine yacht called the Warfighter, a Range Rover SUV, a golf cart, jewelry, and cosmetic surgery.
After some wrangling over the consequences of Trump’s pardon, Judge Torres dismissed the indictment as to Bannon—but not without first opining that Trump’s former chief strategist’s acceptance of the pardon could be seen as an acknowledgment of his guilt.
“Of course, ‘a pardon does not, standing alone, render [a defendant] innocent of the alleged… violation,’” the judge’s ruling notes. “Nor does a pardon before conviction ‘blot out probable cause of guilt or expunge an indictment.’ […] To the contrary, from the country’s earliest days, courts, including the Supreme Court, have acknowledged that even if there is no formal admission of guilt, the issuance of a pardon may ‘carr[y] an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.’” (Some legal experts dispute the judge’s interpretation about pardon power, based largely on the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case of Burdick v. United States.)
Trump never granted clemency to Kolfage, Badolato or Shea, who were charged in the same case as Bannon—but unlike him, were never employed by the 45th president’s administration.
The crowdfunding initiative to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has embarrassed multiple Trump associates, even if Bannon was the only member of the former president’s inner circle to have been prosecuted.
Donald Trump Jr. praised the effort in a recorded statement, saying the “private enterprise” was going to build “better, faster, cheaper than anything else.”
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose anti-immigration platform reportedly endeared him to Trump’s inner circle, provided legal services for We Build the Wall, and he fought to get paid for that work after federal prosecutors froze its money. Prosecutors have not accused Kobach or Trump Jr. of wrongdoing in connection with the case.
Kolfage, Badolato and Shea must submit any pretrial motions by Nov. 15.
The government must respond by Dec. 6, and the defendants can reply by Dec. 13.
Read the ruling below:
(Image via YouTube screengrab)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]