Kobach defends Bannon, deflects personal responsibility over alleged border wall corruption

Democrat asserts Kansas deserves AG not associated with ‘scams’

By: - September 8, 2022 10:11 am
Kansas attorney general candidate Kris Kobach, who served as general counsel to We Build the Wall, deflected responsibility for alleged fraud against the organization and defended Stephen Bannon, who faced indictment for financial misconduct at the crowd-sourced organization created to build wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas attorney general candidate Kris Kobach, who served as general counsel to We Build the Wall, deflected responsibility over alleged fraud and defended Stephen Bannon, who faced indictment for financial misconduct at the crowd-sourced organization created to build wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

OLATHE — Kansas attorney general candidate Kris Kobach offered a sweeping defense of former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon amid allegations of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud related to operation of We Build the Wall Inc.

Kobach said alleged wrongdoing involving the organization that raised millions of dollars for construction of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border took place before he was hired as general counsel at We Build the Wall. He has continued to perform legal work on behalf of the organization as it moved toward an orderly shutdown.

“All the allegations revolved around supposed agreements made when the thing was first started,” Kobach said after a candidate forum Wednesday night hosted by the Kansas Chamber. “I came on after that. They brought me on to figure out how to build a wall on private land legally. That was my job.”

Kobach, who served two terms as Kansas secretary of state, said he was convinced that he wasn’t in jeopardy of being indicted.

Kobach said he cooperated with prosecutors by sharing emails related to activities of We Build the Wall. He said he was listed as a witness for the prosecution and defense in a criminal case against Colorado businessman Timothy Shea that ended in a mistrial. Two other We Build the Wall defendants have entered guilty pleas.

Kobach said he was approached in 2019 to work on the project that raised about $25 million for wall construction on the southern U.S. border. He said he “jumped at the chance” because the country suffered from a porous border.

Bannon, the onetime advisor to President Donald Trump, surrendered Thursday to state prosecutors in New York City.

“My guess is that it will be similar to what the federal prosecutors claimed two years ago,” Kobach said.

Bannon was indicted by federal prosecutors in 2020 along with three other people, accused of mail fraud and money laundering through diversion for personal expenses of crowd-funded donations to We Build the Wall. Trump pardoned Bannon in 2021 to thwart prosecution in U.S. District Court for allegedly misusing $1 million in donations.

Presidential pardons don’t apply to a state’s investigation or prosecution of criminal conduct.

Kobach said he first met Bannon at the Trump golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, when Trump interviewed Kobach for a potential appointment as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Kobach has appeared more recently on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.

“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well,” Kobach said. “He did great work with the We Build the Wall organization. I think he’s doing great work with his Bannon War Room program.”

Kobach dismissed Bannon’s conviction in July for contempt of Congress as not a “garden variety” case. Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault at the Capitol.

“I think the congressional contempt prosecution is purely political,” Kobach said. “He made a decision based on the fact that he was trying to protect executive privilege. That constitutional position is one I agree with. This was him taking a constitutional stand with which the current leadership of Congress disagrees, but I anticipate leadership of Congress come January will completely agree.”

Kobach, of rural Lecompton, won the Republican Party’s nomination for attorney general in August by defeating two rivals, including GOP Sen. Kelli Warren, who was endorsed by the Kansas Chamber PAC and other conservative political groups.

The Chamber’s leadership said there was concern Kobach couldn’t win a campaign for attorney general and raised questions about whether Kobach could “adequately and effectively represent Kansas businesses and individuals successfully in court.” Kobach lost a 2018 general election for governor and the 2020 primary campaign for U.S. Senate.

“The Chamber made a decision in the primary that obviously I disagreed with, but I’m hopeful that as time goes on they’ll see that I’m a friend of Kansas business,” Kobach said.

Kobach is running against Democratic candidate Chris Mann, a Lawrence attorney and former police officer. Mann’s campaign said the We Build the Wall organization had been “defrauding Americans for years.”

“It’s long past time they shut down and return the stolen money,” said Mann spokeswoman Kelli Kee. “Kansans need an attorney general like Chris Mann who will protect them from fraud, not someone who takes part in the scams themselves.”

If elected attorney general, Kobach said he would attempt to unwind his involvement in a collection of private cases. He has filed suits against President Joe Biden and represents military members challenging a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“You have to be careful how you back out of a case,” Kobach said. “You have to make sure there is somebody there who can step into your shoes and is capable of litigating that issue. I anticipate that I would try to hand off the cases.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.