WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he felt “very badly” about the arrest of his former White House strategist Steve Bannon but said he was not in touch with the former campaign aide and knew nothing about the organization involved in the case.
Bannon, an architect of the nationalist populism that has defined Trump’s presidency, has been charged with defrauding Trump supporters in a campaign to help build the president’s signature wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I feel very badly. I haven’t been dealing with him for a long period of time,” Trump said when asked about the case.
“I do think it’s a sad event,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “I haven’t dealt with him at all now for years, literally years.”
Bannon was an influential part of Trump’s inner circle during his presidential campaign and later at the White House. He was fired as Trump’s chief White House strategist in August 2017.
The president often keeps in touch with advisers even after parting with them publicly, and he has frequently expressed sympathy for the cadre of his associates who have been arrested or convicted of crimes since his 2016 presidential bid.
Bannon was among four people arrested on Thursday and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in an indictment secured by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Prosecutors accused the defendants of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a $25 million crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall,” the Justice Department said. They each face up to 40 years in prison.
“I know nothing about the project other than I didn’t like, when I read about it, I didn’t like it. I said, ‘This is for government, this isn’t for private people,’ and it sounded to me like showboating,” Trump said.
The Republican president also told reporters that he did not know the three charged along with Bannon and did not believe he had ever met them.
“I think it’s a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon. I think it’s surprising,” Trump said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Tim Ahmann and David Morgan; Editing by Alistair Bell)