Washington — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed an indictment against Steve Bannon, former chief strategist to President Donald Trump, that accused him of taking part in a scheme to defraud donors to a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the southern border.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres granted the request from Bannon over opposition from federal prosecutors, who requested the court instead remove Bannon as a defendant in the case. Bannon was one of the 74 people who received a pardon from Mr. Trump just before he left office in January.
Torres dismissed the indictment against Bannon based on his presidential pardon, calling it the "proper course" as the majority of courts have chosen to toss out an indictment when faced with a decision on whether to do so.
The judge, however, acknowledged in her order that a pardon does not render a defendant innocent of the alleged crime.
"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 guilty; acceptance a confession of it,'" Torres wrote.
Federal prosecutors in New York asked Torres not to grant Bannon's request to dismiss the indictment, arguing that while it doesn't dispute his pardon, doing so "could have a broader effect than the pardon itself, among other things potentially relieving Bannon of certain consequences not covered by the pardon."
"The fact that Bannon was pardoned does not extinguish the fact that a grand jury found probable cause to believe that he committed the offenses set forth in the indictment, nor does it undercut the evidence of his involvement therein which the government expects to elicit as part of its presentation at trial," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss wrote in a February letter to Torres.
Bannon, who served as a White House adviser to Mr. Trump, pleaded not guilty in August to charges of wire fraud and money laundering. He and three others were indicted for allegedly taking part in a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors to a "We Build the Wall" fundraising campaign that raked in more than $25 million to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Federal prosecutors claimed Bannon received more than $1 million from the fundraiser, which was funneled through a non-profit he controlled. Some of the money was allegedly used to cover Bannon's personal expenses and pay the organizer of the campaign, Brian Kolfage, who was also charged in the scheme.
Bannon was arrested on a 152-foot yacht off the coast of Connecticut registered to exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and released on a $5 million bond.