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With Steve Bannon arrest, 'Sovereign District' sends another salvo

If the recent firing of the top federal prosecutor was intended to quell criminal investigations into Trump's close associates, federal prosecutors in New York appear to have missed the memo

Steve Bannon: Rise & fall of ex-Trump aide now charged in border wall scam

AP New York
If the recent firing of the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan was intended to quell criminal investigations into President Donald Trump's close associates, as some have accused, federal prosecutors in New York appear to have missed the memo.
Thursday's arrest of Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, served as a stark reminder that no one who has been within the president's inner circle is automatically immune from federal scrutiny.
Bannon, 66, and three others are charged with defrauding online donors in the name of helping build the president's cherished southern border wall. Bannon pleaded not guilty at a hearing Thursday in Manhattan.
The indictment came just two months after the abrupt dismissal of Geoffrey S Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York who had overseen several investigations with tentacles into Trump's orbit including one involving the business dealings of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.
The same office prosecuted former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen for campaign finance crimes, as well as two Giuliani associates tied to the investigation that led to Trump's impeachment investigation in December. Giuliani himself has not been charged with any crime.
Berman's unceremonious removal decried by some critics as a Friday night massacre in June fueled longstanding concerns among Democratic lawmakers that the Justice Department has become politicised under Attorney General William Barr.
But the wire fraud and money laundering charges against Bannon confirm the ongoing professional independence of the Southern District of New York, said Bruce Green, a former prosecutor in the office.
The Manhattan prosecutors' office, known as SDNY, has long been nicknamed the Sovereign District of New York for its independence from Washington politics. The office, older than the Justice Department itself, has been home to famous mob trials, terrorism prosecutions and, increasingly, probes involving Trump's allies.
It shows that the Trump administration cannot fully protect the president's former associates from federal criminal prosecution simply by firing US attorneys like Geoffrey Berman who honor their responsibility to seek impartial justice, said Green, who now directs the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at the Fordham University School of Law.
Green said in June that Berman's firing certainly wasn't a routine decision, and the only fair inference is that there are some cases where the office is proceeding too independently.
The charges against Bannon came as Trump himself faced renewed legal perils, as a federal judge rejected Trump's latest bid to shield his tax returns from a state grand jury investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney.
Trump, who is appealing the ruling, blasted the subpoena as the most disgusting witch hunt in the history of our country a refrain he has used to deride several criminal cases targeting him and his associates. He has criticized many of the criminal cases as politically motivated.
The president also sought to distance himself from Bannon on Thursday, saying he knew nothing about the We Build The Wall fundraiser. Bannon served as chief strategist during the early days of Trump's administration but clashed with other top advisers and was pushed out after less than a year.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Aug 21 2020 | 7:22 PM IST

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