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Why ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon is back in the spotlight

Washington: The House’s vote Thursday to hold former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress marked the latest in a string of legal travails and public controversies for the right-wing strategist since he left government in 2017.

Mr. Bannon was fired by former President Trump in August 2017, days after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and after he had feuded with some fellow Trump aides and members of the president’s family. But he has retained his influence in pro-Trump spheres. He hosts conservative politicians on his podcast and has been a prominent supporter of Trump-aligned causes, like challenging the results of the 2020 election and raising private money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

He also has returned to Mr. Trump’s good graces as a vocal supporter of the former president’s false election-fraud claims.

The return to favor seemed unlikely after his 2017 firing and Mr. Trump’s subsequent insults, such as in 2018 when he said that Mr. Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”

Mr. Bannon was one of four Trump administration officials who received subpoenas last month from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot. The subpoenas sought to compel them to turn over records and sit for depositions in connection with the events surrounding the attack.

The committee has expressed interest in media reports that Mr. Bannon encouraged Mr. Trump and members of Congress to block certification of the election on Jan. 6, in conversation with the former president on Dec. 30 and during a meeting Jan. 5 at the Willard Hotel.

In a letter last week, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, said Mr. Bannon couldn’t respond to the committee’s subpoena because of executive and attorney-client privilege.

Before leaving office in January, Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Bannon, who faced federal fraud charges in Manhattan tied to an alleged scheme to siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars from a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. Mr. Bannon had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial in federal court.

Mr. Bannon also faces a state investigation into the alleged scheme, which wouldn’t be affected by a presidential pardon.

Federal authorities arrested Mr. Bannon on the fraud charges as he spent time on the yacht of Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who is considered a fugitive in China and with whom he has worked on several projects. One company linked to them called GTV Media raised more than $300 million in a private offering last year. That company and two other Guo-linked companies agreed in September to pay $539 million to settle regulatory claims they violated investor-protection laws when they raised money from over 5,000 investors.

Mr. Bannon has also been involved in a project to create a right-wing academy in a 13th-century Italian monastery, but the lease was canceled by the Italian Ministry of Culture. The agency alleged that Mr. Bannon’s organization had lied about its qualifications to promote a cultural-heritage site. Mr. Bannon called the move a politically motivated joke.

Despite his legal issues, Mr. Bannon remains a sought-after voice in certain Republican circles. Interviews on his podcast, “War Room,” make headlines in conservative and mainstream-media outlets. In recent months, he has hosted third-ranking House Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R. Ga.), and Republican Senate candidates including Ohio’s Josh Mandel and JD Vance and Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell.

YouTube has banned the show, citing Mr. Bannon’s false claims about election fraud. He also has used the show to promote Covid-19 vaccine misinformation. The show has a particular focus on China and the perceived threat the country poses to U.S. interests. Topics include the theory—denied by China—that Covid-19 was engineered in a Chinese lab.

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