Politics

Trump tells people he’s decided to pardon Steve Bannon as one of his final acts in office

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, in Washington. Bannon told the Associated Press that if the elections were held today, he believed the GOP would lose 35 to 40 seats and the House of Representatives, but argued there was time to turn that around. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CNN) — President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.

Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.

One concern that had stalled debate over the pardon was Bannon’s possible connection to the riot of Trump supporters at the US Capitol earlier this month, a source familiar with the discussions told CNN.

“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Bannon promised listeners of his podcast — “War Room” — on January 5, the day before the deadly siege on the Capitol.

The day after Bannon’s comments, Trump urged supporters to go to the Capitol because the election “was stolen from you, from me and from the country.”

A senior Trump adviser told CNN that Trump and Bannon had communicated in recent weeks.

While some advisers believed it was decided last weekend that Bannon was not getting a pardon, Trump continued to raise it into Tuesday night. Throughout the day, Trump had continued to contemplate pardons that aides believed were settled, including for his former strategist — something he continued to go back and forth on into Tuesday night, sources told CNN.

Ultimately, Trump sided with Bannon.

Bannon had helped run Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and was credited as a driving force behind Trump’s populist appeal, nationalist ideology and controversial policies.

Before joining the campaign, Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart, a right-wing news site that traffics in incendiary headlines. He returned to Breitbart after leaving the White House, but left again in 2018.

Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.

Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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