WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 08:  Former White House senior counselor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon speaks to members of the media as he leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse after he testified at the Roger Stone trial November 8, 2019 in Washington, DC. Stone has been charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Former Trump campaign chair Steve Bannon charged with fraud
03:05 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

After New York federal prosecutors indicted President Donald Trump’s former campaign CEO and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, along with three others in an alleged scheme to defraud donors in a border wall fundraising campaign, the President claimed that he did not know people involved in the project.

“I know nothing about the project other than I didn’t like when I read about it, I didn’t like it,” Trump said on Thursday. “I said this is for government, this isn’t for private people, and it sounded to me like showboating and I think I let my opinion be very strongly stated at the time: I didn’t like it, it was showboating and maybe looking for funds, but you’ll have to see what happens. I think it’s a very sad thing for Mr. Bannon.”

“I didn’t know any of the other people, either,” he added.

In a statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added that Trump does not know people involved in the project.

“President Trump has not been involved with Steve Bannon since the campaign and the early part of the Administration, and he does not know the people involved with this project,” McEnany said.

Facts First: It’s not true that Trump doesn’t know the people involved in the private fundraising group, We Build the Wall, which he criticized in a tweet last month. Along with Bannon, Trump knows most people on the group’s board of directors, including Curt Schilling, David Clarke, Mary Ann Mendoza, Steve Ronnebeck and Erik Prince.

In 2019, according to Kris Kobach, a Kansas politician associated with the group, Trump said he knew of the online fundraising group.

Kobach, who sits on the board of directors for We Build the Wall, told the New York Times in an interview from January 2019 that the President was aware of the group’s efforts.

“I talked with the president, and the ‘We Build the Wall Effort’ came up. The president said ‘the project has my blessing, and you can tell the media that,’” Kobach said, who served on Trump’s voter fraud commission.

The White House’s claim that the President does not know the people with the project is blatantly wrong. Trump knows or has interacted with most of the board members.

Photos show Trump with board members Kobach, a staunch ally who served on his voter fraud commission, former sheriff David Clarke who was once considered for a role in his administration, and Steve Ronnebeck, whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant and has spoken at campaign and White House events.

Trump also cited board members including pitcher Schilling and Mendoza, in past tweets. Mendoza’s son was killed by an undocumented immigrant and spoke at a White House event along with Ronnebeck in 2018.

Mercenary Prince has been involved with both Trump’s campaign and the administration since 2016.

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also made an appearance for the group in July 2019 when he visited the private border wall and lavished praise on both Brian Kolfage, one of the men charged for allegedly defrauding donors, and the group.

“This is what capitalism is all about. This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else. What you guys are doing is amazing,” Trump Jr. said at the event, which also featured his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle.

“It started from a grassroots effort and it’s just doing some wonderful things for an important issue,” he added.

Testimonials from the pair’s appearance were later added to the website of We Build the Wall.

Jennifer Lawrence, the communications director for We Build the Wall did not respond to a request for comment from CNN and Dustin Stockton, one of the group’s leaders, declined to comment to CNN on the White House’s statement.

“I’m not saying anything privately that’s not off the record until I have time to fully consult with counsel,” Stockton told CNN in a message.

Amanda Miller, a spokesperson for the Trump Organization, said that Trump Jr. gave one speech to the group, did not give the group permission to use his testimonial and was unaware it was used, and that he has no affiliation with the group.

“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 never 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,” said Miller.

“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.”