On Thursday the news that Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon had been arrested sent shock waves throughout Washington.
Right now the big question in Washington is “what does Bannon’s arrest mean for Donald Trump?” Bannon has been one of Trump’s closest confidants for years.
On Thursday Bannon and three of his associates were arrested and charged by the Southern District of New York. They face charges for allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a GoFundMe fundraising campaign that raised more than $25 million to help build Trump’s border wall.
Bannon and his associates have officially been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. If found guilty they could serve as much as 20 years in jail for each count.
On Friday, Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan stated that it isn’t likely that Bannon will receive a heavy sentence.
McQuade said that as per sentencing guidelines, 11 to 14 years would be a “reasonable time for someone to spend in prison” under the charges. However, she adds given that it is a white-collar crime, she could see Bannon receiving a sentence of seven years or less if convicted.
“The reason for that is the great disparity we see in the criminal justice system between white collar defendants and other defendants,” she said. “Although the guidelines are 11 to 14 years and I think prosecutors would advocate for 11 to 14 years, so often we see judges cut a break to people who commit white collar crimes.”
“I think it’s a bias in the system. I think it is a grave injustice, but it has happened frequently,” she added.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see a judge impose something more along the lines of seven years, but it’s still a substantial amount of time for someone of his age,” McQuade said of Bannon.
McQuade added that Bannon is 66 so 7 years can seem like a lifetime so that could make him desperate to do anything he can to reduce his sentence even if that means sharing key information about his friend, Donald Trump.
“He has information not only about Donald Trump, but about those around him, like Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Erik Prince,” she said.
Prince is the billionaire founder of defense contractor Blackwater and the well brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince gave conflicting statements to the House Intelligence Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller about a meeting he had with a Russian financier connected to President Vladimir Putin back in 2017 in Seychelles islands back in January of 2017, the same month that Trump took office.
McQuade also notes that both Trump Jr. and Kushner could also find themselves knee deep in trouble if Bannon decides to share information in exchange for leniency. Especially if questions about the proposed Trump Tower in Russia and meeting with Russia In June of 2016 are something that Bannon spills the beans on.
Caroline Polisi, a criminal defense attorney shared that being “somewhat notorious or famous for looking into Trump associates” and given the fact that there have been many questions around his campaign and administration, “they could certainly ask Bannon questions about things that have nothing to do with this indictment.”
“So, the question is, what type of information does he have?” she said.
“There are so many unknowns and obviously, if he cooperated, he could be looking at a plea deal,” Polisi said. “Ultimately, the judge is the one that decides the sentence. But if the prosecutors feel that he’s provided substantial assistance in the prosecution of either this case or another case, that could substantially mitigate any sentence.”
Polisi went on to warn: “The way the system is set up encourages plea bargaining, plea deals and parties to plead guilty quickly. And so the longer he holds out and if he’s found guilty, the longer he’s likely to get in terms of a sentence because judges and prosecutors and the system really don’t like it when criminal defendants exercise their right to a jury trial and so they get penalized for it.”
McQuade stated that the case against Bannon is a “strong one.”
“Oftentimes, when you have to rely on eyewitnesses, sometimes those people who are witnesses can have their motives on the witness stand or biases or problems with their ability to observe. But, with documents, it’s very clear what they say,” McQuade said. “They don’t lie. They don’t forget and they don’t wither on cross-examination.”
McQuade added that “now, of course, he could keep his mouth shut and signal to President Trump about what he plans to do by saying ‘I’m going to keep my mouth shut’ and instead hope for a pardon that may help protect people in trouble,” McQuade shared.