‘Have a Nice Life’: Trump Exits With Pardons for Cronies, Money Launderers

Published: 21 January 2021

When he was taken into custody, Bannon was cruising on the $28 million yacht of Chinese dissident Guo Wengui. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)When he was taken into custody, Bannon was cruising on the $28 million yacht of Chinese dissident Guo Wengui. (Photo: Michael Vadon, Wikimedia, License)

By David Klein

Many American presidents have released pardons on their final day in office, but the slew announced by Trump on Wednesday included some particularly questionable figures from his controversial term as the country’s leader.

One was Steve Bannon, Trump’s ex-chief of staff who was indicted in August for an alleged fraud scheme arising from Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Bannon had established a non-profit organization known as “We Build the Wall,” which, despite former President Trump's declarations that Mexico would pay for the project, claimed to be fundraising for the wall. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bannon was actually defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors for millions of U.S. dollars.

“Bannon, through a non-profit organization under his control, received over US$1 million from “We Build the Wall,” at least some of which Bannon used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in... personal expenses,” the DOJ statement said.  

In total, the organization collected some $25 million. 

At the time he was taken into custody, Bannon was cruising on the $28 million yacht of Chinese dissident Guo Wengui.

With Trump’s pardon, Bannon is now safe from future prosecution. The White House statement on pardons gave no reasoning beyond “Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.”

Another controversial figure whom Trump named before departing the White House for the last time was Alex Adjmi.

Like Trump, Adjmi is a fellow New York real estate mogul. He was convicted in 1996 of laundering money for Colombia’s Cali cartel, at that time one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world, and spent five years in prison. 

According to the White House statement, Adjmi’s pardon “is supported by Haim Chera on behalf of his late father Stanley.” Stanley Chera was a close friend of President Trump’s and a heavy contributor to his campaigns who died last year of coronavirus. 

Both Chera and Adjmi are part of New York’s Syrian Jewish community, of which several members are powerful players in Manhattan's real estate market. 

Also pardoned was Elliott Broidy, the disgraced former financial chair of the Republican National Committee. 

Last year, Broidy pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of the former prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak.

Broidy’s indictment was part of a larger investigation into the massive 1MDB scandal, in which Razak is alleged to have funneled more than $700 million dollars out of his country’s state-run 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) company and into his personal accounts, against the backdrop of a total $4 billion stolen from the country as part of the scheme. 

Broidy worked on behalf of Razak in the U.S., crafting talking points for him before a 2017 meeting with President Trump. At the time, Broidy was also being pushed by the Chinese government to help orchestrate the extradition of Bannon’s friend, the dissident Wengui.

Emails also showed that Broidy was offered $75 million if he could get the U.S. Justice Department to drop its investigation into the 1MDB scandal.

In 2018, Broidy was also implicated in a sex scandal with Playboy “Playmate” Shera Bechard.

He had apparently used Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to negotiate a $1.6 million payment for a non-disclosure after he funded an abortion to terminate a pregnacy resulting from their relationship.