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Trump Pardons Steve Bannon, Lil Wayne In Final Clemency Flurry

Steve Bannon leaves federal court, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall.
Steve Bannon leaves federal court, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall.

President Trump has pardoned his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of people in an online campaign to raise funds for a southern border wall — part of a flurry of acts and clemency in the final hours of his administration.

The lengthy list of pardons landed after midnight. Trump is slated to leave the White House for the last time early Wednesday morning, skipping the inaugural ceremonies of his successor President-elect Joe Biden.

Other notable names on Trump's clemency list included Rapper Lil Wayne, who was charged late last year with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon. Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., endorsed President Trump ahead of the November election, tweeting a picture of himself with Trump. Bill Kapri, the rapper better known as Kodak Black, also made the list, as did Michael "Harry O" Harris, the co-founder of Death Row Records.

Trump embraced his clemency power early on in his presidency, and has primarily used it to help out prominent supporters. Also on his most recent list: Elliott Broidy, a former fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.

Since he lost the election, Trump has ramped up his use of this authority, granting clemency to nearly 50 people the week before Christmas. Overall, Trump had issued around 90 pardons and commutations before this latest batch.

Most of the people granted clemency have been politically connected, including former Republican lawmakers, Trump associates convicted during the Russia investigation, and Ivanka Trump's father-in-law. There were no family members on his new list.

It's not unusual for presidents to issue a wave of pardons and commutations in their last days in office. Former President Barack Obama granted clemency to 330 prisoners serving time for drug offenses the day before the end of his term. This was a part of Obama's push to address mass incarceration caused by the war on drugs.

One of the most notorious 11th-hour pardon sprees happened under former President Bill Clinton. He pardoned more than 100 people on his last day in office, including his brother, Roger Clinton, and fugitive financier Marc Rich. The pardons sparked outrage and became known as "Pardongate."

Master and apprentice

Bannon was arrested in August along with three other men on wire fraud and money laundering charges stemming from their work for "We Build The Wall," an online crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Prosecutors say Bannon and his fellow defendants, although they'd promised donors that all the funds would go toward the wall, secretly siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars and lined their own pockets.

Bannon allegedly received more than $1 million from the organization through a nonprofit he controls, according to the indictment, and at least some of that money was used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses. All four defendants pleaded not guilty.

Trump and Bannon have had a mutually beneficial relationship that has also at times been rocky.

Bannon was running the far-right news outlet Breitbart when Trump tapped him to lead his campaign in the final months of the 2016 race. After helping Trump pull out his surprise victory, Bannon followed him into the White House as chief strategist.

He helped push some of the most divisive actions in the early days of the Trump administration, including the so-called Muslim ban.

Bannon's major role brought the media spotlight, including a photo on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline: "The Great Manipulator." The cover allegedly rankled the president, who was said to believe he deserved more credit than his adviser.

After a bumpy eight months in the White House that included no shortage of sniping and palace intrigue, Bannon was pushed out of the administration.

He immediately returned to Breitbart, where he continued to push a nationalist, pro-Trump message. But his relationship with the president continued to fray, including over damaging statements attributed to Bannon in tell-all books about the Trump White House.

Yet the two men never totally parted ways. Bannon mounted a vigorous defense of the president during his first impeachment proceedings, launching a podcast and radio show to defend Trump.

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