Steve Bannon, Brian Kolfage and two other men were charged Thursday with defrauding donors to the crowdfunded We Build the Wall effort to privately build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
However, the enterprise — which federal prosecutors allege is fraudulent — sports a virtual who’s-who of pro-Trump figures both on its board and on the record appearing to endorse it.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, controversial former Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo and former MLB pitcher turned right-wing commentator Curt Schilling all sit on the We Build the Wall leadership team, according to its website.
And, Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, as well as Rep. Louie Gohmert and former Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski have all endorsed the project, with testimonials used on the website.
A Number of Former Right-Wing Politicians & Businessmen Sit on the We Build the Wall Leadership Board, As Well as Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince
The We Build the Wall website shows number of conservative all-stars serving on its leadership board.
Iraq War veteran and triple-amputee Brian Kolfage is the founder and president, while Bannon is the chairman of the advisory board.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is listed as general counsel to the advisory board. Kobach served on President Trump’s immigration transition team while still serving as secretary of state in Kansas, ran unsuccessfully for governor and lost a Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate this year, according to local NBC affiliate KSNT.
During his Senate primary campaign, Kobach called working with We Build the Wall “one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career,” according to the Kansas City Star. He is not named in the federal indictment.
Erik Prince is the founder of the controversial private military company Blackwater — now called Academi as its new leadership has tried to shed its bad reputation, the Washington Post reported. He and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are the children of auto parts magnate Edgar Prince, and he is listed as a member of the We Build the Wall advisory board.
Prince is not named in the indictment.
Former Milkwaukee County, Wisconsin, Sheriff David Clarke also sits on the advisory board, according to the We Build the Wall website.
Clarke was a conservative commentator and outspoken supporter of President Trump during his tenure as sheriff — a post he resigned after 40 years in August 2017. Clarke was also under consideration for a Homeland Security role in Trump’s administration for a time, although he never took the job, Heavy reported.
Clarke is not named in the indictment.
Curt Schilling, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox, refashioned himself into a conservative commentator and political hopeful after retiring from baseball and being suspended from ESPN. He joined the right-wing news and commentary website Breitbart in 2017, according to the Daily Beast.
He also sits on the We Build the Wall advisory board, but is not listed in the indictment.
Former Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo is also listed as a We Build the Wall advisory board member. Tancredo served in Congress between 1999 and 2009 and unsuccessfully ran for Colorado governor three times, Colorado Politics reported.
Tancredo participated in a We Build the Wall telethon in 2019 soliciting donations for the organization. At the fundraiser he said he had been concerned about illegal immigration since he went to Congress and he had “so many friends, Hispanic friends” who were outraged about border crossings.
“They were furious about what was happening back then, and I talked to them and it was such a slap in their face, for them to have done it the right way and here for years, then to look and see what was happening on the border,” Tancredo said. “People coming illegally and getting the benefits that they waited in line for.”
Tancredo was not named in the indictment.
We Build the Wall Also Boasts Testimonials From Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, Corey Lewandowski & Rep. Louie Gohmert on its Website
On the main page for We Build the Wall, a number of high-profile Republicans appear to endorse the outfit, including Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, former Fox News commentator and attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Donald Trump Jr. praised We Build The Wall and Brian Kolfage at a 2018 event: "This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else. What you guys are doing is amazing.” pic.twitter.com/hOL25JoZPI
— andrew kaczynski🤔 (@KFILE) August 20, 2020
Trump Jr., at a 2018 We Built the Wall event, said, “”This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else. What you guys are doing is amazing.” That quote is featured on the organization’s website.
Guilfoyle is quoted as saying, “Don and I wanted to come down and see what’s going on here, and it’s really impressive what you’ve been able to accomplish,” possibly at the same event.
And former Trump campaign advisor Corey Lewandowski is featured, saying, “People can’t appreciate how beautiful this wall is until they come down and see it for themselves.
From Trump Org spokeswoman Amanda Miller re Donald Trump Jr’s visit to the Bannon Wall project: pic.twitter.com/mutJfc8LgN
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 20, 2020
Trump Jr., through a spokesperson, told the New York Times that he had no involvement in We Build the Wall other than his appearance at the 2018 event:
Don gave one speech at a single We Build the Wall event over a year ago with a group of angel moms, and besides that, has no involvement with their organization. He neer gave them permission to use him as a testimonial on their website and was unaware they included him as one until today’s media reports about it. His previous praise of the group was based on what he was led to believe about their supposed intention to help build the wall on our southern border, and if he and others were deceived, the group deserves to be held accountable for their actions.
Heavy reached out to Gohmert’s press office for comment but did not immediately hear back. We were unable to immediately reach Guilfoyle or Lewandowski for comment.
Charges Have Only Been Announced Against Founder Brian Kolfage, Steve Bannon, Andrew Badolato & Timothy Shea
So far, charges have only been announced against Bannon, Kolfage, Badolato and Shea, per federal prosecutors.
Bannon is accused of taking at least $1 million and prosecutors also say the fundraising campaign paid a secret salary of $20,000 a month to Kolfage, with Badolato and Shea helping to cover up the scheme through shell companies and fake vendors.
Phillip Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, who is prosecuting the case with Acting Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, said in a statement that the four men lied to donors and “schemed to hide their misappropriation of funds” and showed “no regard for the law or the truth.”
“This case should serve as a warning to other fraudsters that no one is above the law, not even a disabled war veteran or a millionaire political strategist,” Bartlett added.
President Trump on Thursday called Bannon’s arrest “very sad,” CNN reported.
All four men face two conspiracy charges, with a maximum of 20 years in prison for each charge if convicted.
Attorney information was unavailable Thursday afternoon for the four men.