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Steve Bannon prepares to face New York fraud charges

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon is preparing to face New York state charges that he defrauded donors to the nonprofit group We Build the Wall. The move comes just months after Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena by the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us now to discuss the new case.

Andrea, so what's this case about?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So this case is expected to be similar to a previous federal case that Bannon was indicted on but never tried on because Trump pardoned Bannon before that could happen. That case was involving this nonprofit, We Build the Wall, which was collecting private donations to build a piece of the border wall. And Bannon and others were accused of, basically, skimming money from the donors for personal use for things like travel and credit card debt and the like. In that case, there were three codefendants. Two pleaded guilty. One had a mistrial. A person familiar with the New York case confirms he'll turn himself in tomorrow, which will make him a member of a large and growing group of former top Trump associates in trouble with the law.

MARTINEZ: How did it happen that state prosecutors get the case?

BERNSTEIN: So in the last 24 hours of his presidency, former President Trump pardoned Bannon. Soon after that, the Manhattan DA and the New York attorney general began looking into whether there were victims or criminal activity in Manhattan. We know from past practice they don't bring a case unless they believe they have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. That, of course, would be tested in this case with the jury.

MARTINEZ: And this has me wondering if there's a question of double jeopardy here because of the previous federal indictment that led to Trump's presidential pardon of Steve Bannon.

BERNSTEIN: So Bannon probably will argue that there is an issue of double jeopardy. In a statement that he released last night, he's already accused the DA of bringing, quote, "phony charges." Previously, the Manhattan DA - excuse me. Previously, the Manhattan DA was told he could not prosecute former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, who had his own case. But that was different because he had already been convicted at trial of fraud and pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and money laundering. In this case, Bannon never went to trial, so it's untested.

MARTINEZ: Is there, though, a connection between this case and the contempt of Congress case?

BERNSTEIN: Well, there is in the sense that Bannon has very clearly acted as if the rule of law does not apply to him. And it's concerning because he was seeking a pardon for the fraud case at the same time that he was communicating with the White House privately and publicly, encouraging people to protest what he said was a falsely - was a fraudulent election. So it's all wrapped up together because he was very clearly trying to get a private benefit from Trump at the same time that he was involved in this very public activity, which he refused to testify about and was subsequently convicted of committing a federal crime in Washington, D.C., for refusing to comply with that committee.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein.

Thanks a lot, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.