Now each of them could face up to 20 years in prison. “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,” said Philip Bartlett, the New York inspector in charge for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which handled the investigation along with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Inside the Moynihan courthouse this afternoon, the famously voluble Bannon was reduced to offering a few monosyllabic responses to a magistrate judge, Stewart Aaron, who read him his Miranda rights and confirmed that Bannon understood the charges. Bannon’s virtual appearance was a function of the coronavirus pandemic: Only the judge appeared in the courtroom, while lawyers for the government and the defense called in by phone. Reporters watched the proceedings via closed-circuit television in a repurposed jury room, sitting in chairs spaced several feet apart rather than the usual wooden pews. Even the sketch artists were forced to capture the scene through a low-resolution web video. “A whole new world,” one journalist sighed as he took his seat in what amounted to an overflow room.
If Bannon displayed any emotion, it couldn’t be discerned through the mask. He answered Aaron’s largely perfunctory questions crisply and directly. Was he able to hear the audio? Aaron asked. “Uh, yes, I am,” Bannon replied. Had he consented to appear virtually instead of physically at the hearing? “Yes, your honor, I did.”
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One of Bannon’s lawyers, William Burck, entered a plea of not guilty on his client’s behalf. The government agreed to release him on a $5 million bond, of which Bannon must put up $1.7 million within two weeks to stay out of jail. On one level, Bannon’s arrest this morning, coming on the day former Vice President Joe Biden will formally accept the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump this fall, was a stunner: It was not widely reported that Bannon was under criminal investigation, and though personally estranged from the president since his ouster from the White House three years ago this week, he has remained a Trump booster on the outside. Yet the news felt oddly familiar during an administration in which the president’s former national security adviser, campaign chairman, deputy campaign manager, lawyer, and political confidant have already been prosecuted for federal crimes.
During any previous national convention, the revelation that a sitting president’s onetime chief strategist had been arrested and indicted would have sent the challenger’s campaign scrambling to rewrite speeches and work the news into that evening’s program. Biden’s campaign, however, merely shrugged: “No one needed a federal indictment to know that Steve Bannon was a fraud,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters when she was asked about the news on a press call.
“Is it really any surprise that another one of the grifters he has surrounded himself with since he took office was indicted? Sadly, no it was not.”