- Donald Trump Jr. was a special guest last year an event for the group Steve Bannon was just arrested over.
- Trump Jr. once described “We Build the Wall” as “what capitalism is all about” and “private enterprise at its finest.”
- A Facebook page run by the founder of the group in December 2019 ran an ad promising autographed copies of Trump Jr.’s book in exchange for donations.
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Donald Trump Jr. was a special guest last year at an event hosted by “We Build the Wall,” the group that former Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon was arrested over on Thursday.
In a 15-minute speech at the July 2019 event, “Symposium at the Wall: Cartels, Trafficking and Asylum,” Trump Jr. praised the group as an example of “private enterprise at its finest.”
“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 time, per the El Paso Times.
Prosecutors on Thursday said they arrested and charged Bannon, Brian Kolfage, and two others in a plot to defraud donors out of $25 million in a fundraising campaign they claimed was launched to fund President Donald Trump’s border wall. The defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in the alleged scheme.
“As alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.”
Bannon was accused of taking more than $1 million from the fundraiser to “secretly” pay Kolfage and cover hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of his own personal expenses.
Trump Jr.’s connections to the group appear to extend beyond the July 2019 event he attended.
A Facebook page run by Kolfage spent $185,000 on dozens of ads. Some asked people for donations. In an ad posted in late December, Kolfage promised a “FREE Donald Trump Jr Autographed Book with donation to We Build The Wall Inc! DO NOT MISS OUT!”
“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,” Amanda Miller, a spokesperson for Trump Jr., told Insider. “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. 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.”
President Donald Trump has sought to distance himself from the project, describing the effort as “inappropriate.”Trump also criticized the project this past July after it showed signs of erosion. Though the campaign was orchestrated by his supporters and endorsed by his son, Trump said the project was “only done to make me look bad.”
Trump also reportedly described the project as a “blessing” in a conversation with Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state.
The president on Thursday said he feels “very badly” about Bannon’s arrest, adding, “I haven’t been dealing with him for a long period of time.”
Bannon served as White House chief strategist for roughly seven months in the first year of Trump’s administration, after playing a central role in the Trump campaign.
Grace Panetta, Darren Samuelsohn, and Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.