By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Friday warned a co-defendant of Steve Bannon, an architect of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, to avoid social media posts that could undermine a corruption trial tied to Trump’s effort to build a wall along the Mexican border.
In a letter to a federal judge in Manhattan, prosecutors said Brian Kolfage’s “steady stream” of often “highly inflammatory” posts about the case created a substantial risk that pretrial publicity could make it hard to find an impartial jury, and a gag order might be needed if it continued.
The posts included descriptions of the case as a “witch hunt” and a political effort targeting Trump supporters, including donors to the “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign led by Kolfage.
“This is #WAR for control of the most powerful country in the world,” Kolfage posted on Aug. 23, accompanied by a photo of Bannon emerging from the Manhattan court after his arraignment.
A lawyer for Kolfage did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prosecutors have charged Kolfage, an Air Force veteran and triple amputee, with diverting more than $350,000 in donations meant for We Build the Wall to fund expenses including home renovations, a luxury SUV, a golf cart, and cosmetic surgery.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the wall campaign, including that he diverted several hundred thousand dollars for personal expenses. Two other defendants, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, have also been charged.
Prosecutors said Kolfage’s posts went to platforms including his Facebook and Instagram accounts, where he has more than 630,000 and 68,000 followers respectively, and have continued “unabated” since they raised concerns to his lawyer on Tuesday.
They said a gag order is not needed now, but asked U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres to caution Kolfage and the other defendants at an Aug. 31 conference against making “extrajudicial statements” that could taint the jury pool.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)