Of all the pardons former President Donald Trump granted in the hours before he left office, perhaps none was as galling to his critics, government watchdog groups and even some of his allies as the pardon of his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.
Mr. Bannon, 67, had been charged with conspiring to swindle donors to a private fund to build a wall along the Mexican border, siphoning off more than $1 million for personal and other expenses, the indictment said.
Even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a conservative bastion, suggested Mr. Bannon’s pardon was unseemly and egregious, asserting that, if the charges were true, “Mr. Trump should be furious at his ex-adviser for turning his signature issue into a grift.”
But the pardon also left three other men who were indicted with Mr. Bannon in an unusual and unenviable predicament. None of them received pardons and so they still must face a trial in May. What’s more, legal experts said, Mr. Bannon could now be called as a government witness to testify against them, potentially increasing their legal jeopardy.
John S. Martin Jr., a retired federal judge and former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said that, assuming Mr. Bannon accepted his pardon and the immunity it conferred, he could not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify for the government against his co-defendants.
“He may not have walked as far away as he thought,” Mr. Martin said.
Even if a judge allows Mr. Bannon to invoke the Fifth Amendment on the theory he still faces possible state charges, as some experts suggest, his absence at the defense table would doubtless reshape the trial.
Mr. Bannon’s three co-defendants — Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who lost both of his legs and one of his arms during his service in Iraq; Andrew Badolato, a venture capitalist; and Timothy Shea — will be left defending themselves without the most prominent figure in the alleged scheme. [Continue reading…]