David Clarke a Key Part of Bannon Scam
Ex-sheriff not indicted but was key fundraiser for We Build the Wall group accused of fraud.
Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has not been indicted in the investigation of Steve Bannon and Brian Kolfage, who were charged by federal prosecutors with defrauding donors to a “We Build the Wall” fund which allegedly gave $1 million to Bannon, who in turn gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage.
Stories have noted Clarke served on the group’s advisory board of eight members, which sounds like he had little involvement. But a look back at its history shows Clarke was one of the group’s most active members and a key to its fundraising, which used his reputation as “America’s Sheriff” and a cowboy-hatted, law-and-order conservative to help sell donors
For instance, in July 2019 Clarke appeared at a “Summer-Long Wall-a-Thon” to raise money for We Build the Wall. As inspiring music played, Clarke offered a rhapsodic call for donations to “privately build the wall” to “secure our border against illegal immigration, crime, drugs and human smuggling,” something a tough sheriff like him knew all about, having encountered such problems in Milwaukee, he explained.
And the American people stepped up, eventually contributing $25 million to We Build the Wall.
Clarke’s role as pitchman built on his past work promoting the president’s push for federal funding for a wall. In December 2018 Breitbart News reported that “America First Action spokesperson and former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke advised President Donald Trump’s supporters to pressure their elected officials to include funding for construction of a southern border wall within the next continuing resolution in lieu of a budget.”
To help Trump, Kolfage had announced a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1 billion for the wall and raised $20 million from 337,518 people in just 25 days. But since the drive fell far short of the goal, all the money had to be returned do donors under the GoFundMe rules. But Kolfage then pivoted in January 2019, announcing the formation of a new non-profit, We Build a Wall, to raise the money privately, and invited GoFundMe donors to direct their donation to the new group. The headline on one story announcing this noted the group’s leaders included Clarke and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
“We are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border“ Kolfage assured donors, adding that “I personally will not take a penny of compensation from these donations.”
On January 31, Clarke made appearance along the Mexican border, entitled on Facebook as “Sheriff Clarke Has Message For America After Touring Mexico Border” with this subtitle; “The We Build The Wall Inc team spent the week at the Texas-Mexico border with several of our powerhouse board members, including Sheriff David Clarke.”
Noting the border crossers he encountered there, Clarke declared: “Not much shocks me, but what I saw today down there at the border shocked me…Now they become a burden” he said of these illegal immigrants. “They’re in need of public services, which is a strain on U.S. public services, schools.. This cannot go on.”
In March Bannon and Clarke traveled to Cincinnati for a We Build the Wall town hall at downtown’s Hilton Netherlands Plaza where Clarke talked about border security, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Two days later Clarke and Bannon were headliners for a We Build the Wall fundraiser in Detroit. “They’re not immigrants — they’re trespassers,” Clarke told the crowd. “Until we seal the border, and I mean really seal the border, then we can begin to fix the other aspects of this very complex problem,” as the Detroit News reported.
In July Clarke was among “several prominent Republican leaders,” the El Paso Times reported, who would speak at a symposium in Sunland Park, New Mexico “to discuss border issues, including immigration, security, drug trafficking and migrant detention centers.” Though his fellow speakers were Bannon, Kobach and Kolfage, only Clarke’s photo was included in the story.
A story by the Texas Tribune on the conference offered a photo of just Kolfage and Clarke. When you’re looking for a visual to evoke border security, it’s hard to top a cowboy hatted lawman. But it was also about message: compared to a journalist and political strategist like Bannon, or a Kansas GOP operative like Kobach, Clarke was a certified law enforcement professional, almost out of central casting for selling donors on border security.
From the beginning there were questions raised about We Build the Wall. When the group was announced, Buzzfeed reported that Kolfage had “spearheaded other crowdfunding ventures over the years, raising thousands of dollars on GoFundMe with the promise of helping mentor fellow vets at military hospitals, but spokespersons for the medical centers said they have no record of Kolfage working at their facilities or donating any money.”
In January Kolfage told the New York Times he expected to break ground on construction of the wall soon. But by May, The Daily Beast did a story suggesting the effort was “a bust,” with “no evidence that any construction has started.”
“Trump supporters who donated to GoFundMe wall now worry they got scammed” a story that same month in Salon reported.
Yet one month later Clarke was still serving as a key speaker and law-and-order symbol for the group. Did he ever have suspicions about the group and what was being done with its money? And what was he paid for flying around the country and making so many speeches on behalf of the group?
Clarke has a reputation as someone whose services don’t come cheap. During his last two years as sheriff, he earned outside gifts, speaking fees, lodging, meals, airfare and other expenses exceeding $370,000, as Dan Bice reported in 2017, getting honorariums of up to $15,000 for his speeches.
But by March 2019, Clarke had been banned from Fox News and fired by the pro Trump super PAC America First and his star had fallen. We Build the Wall was probably the only paid gig he had going. And so Clarke stuck with it. The ex-sheriff hasn’t offered any comment to the media about the federal investigation of We Build the Wall and did not respond to Urban Milwaukee’s repeated requests for comment.
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