Steve Bannon Ran Up Huge Legal Bills and Stiffed His Lawyers

Steve Hirsch/Pool via Reuters
Steve Hirsch/Pool via Reuters
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Steve Bannon—the nativist American media personality who’s backed by a Chinese billionaire—hasn’t paid the lawyers who spent years defending him against an onslaught of criminal charges, according to three sources who spoke exclusively to The Daily Beast.

With massive legal bills still outstanding, Bannon is now scrambling to find new attorneys, as he faces a looming trial over the way he scammed the MAGA crowd with a dubious plan to build a privately funded U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Bannon’s refusal to fully pay his bills has stunned some of his close advisers who’ve stuck around for years.

“I don’t have any reason to believe he doesn’t have money,” one associate said.

After all, Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, co-founded the right-wing news website Breitbart, made tens of millions off the iconic sitcom Seinfeld, and hangs out with Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. In fact, he was relaxing, reading a book on Wengui’s yacht just off the coast of Westbrook, Connecticut when he was arrested by FBI special agents in August 2020.

Steve Bannon Delays Trial by Ghosting His Own Lawyers

Then again, Bannon is also a known grifter and liar with a long history of peddling disinformation.

According to sources, Bannon owes “significant” sums of money to attorneys M. Evan Corcoran of Baltimore and Robert Costello of New York City. They—along with David Schoen of Montgomery, Alabama—spent months battling the Department of Justice in 2021 and 2022, and they represented him at a trial in Washington, D.C., last summer when he was eventually convicted of contempt of Congress.

At one point late last summer, Bannon owed Costello alone more than $100,000, according to a source directly familiar with Bannon’s unpaid bills. And Bannon still owes Costello a ton of money, according to two other sources familiar with the situation.

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.

By contrast, Bannon’s miserly attitude toward Costello carries a particularly sharp sting for that lawyer; the former federal prosecutor has represented Bannon in different cases for years and even took some heat himself—ending up on the wrong side of the FBI.

When, in 2020, the feds charged Bannon with money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for secretly enriching himself with donations to a GoFundMe campaign called “We Build the Wall,” it was Costello who defended him against the DOJ. Later, Costello helped secure Bannon a pardon from former President Donald Trump, a rarely received “get out of jail free” card that upended the federal investigation. And when the prosecutors at the Southern District of New York wouldn’t just dismiss the case, Costello had to sink time into filing additional paperwork to make the case officially go away.

But Costello’s history with Bannon goes even further. The attorney stood by Bannon’s side when the right-wing blowhard flatly refused to testify or hand over documents to the House Jan. 6 Committee that would explain how he engaged in the so-called “Green Bay Sweep”—a plan to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in office. When the committee threatened to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress, it was Costello who ran interference and told the committee that his client simply wouldn’t comply absent a laundry list of demands.

Things took an odd turn in that case when, unbeknownst to Costello, federal prosecutors zeroed in on him by secretly seizing logs of his communications, as The Daily Beast revealed at the time. That controversial decision to seek his emails and phone logs potentially crossed an ethical line by expanding the scope of an investigation to include a suspect’s lawyer. Costello was put in an even more precarious position when he hopped on a call with prosecutors to try to convince them not to criminally charge Bannon—a standard legal defense procedure—only to have FBI special agents quietly listen in and consider it an official investigative interview without his knowledge.

Steve Bannon Is Just Jealous He’s Been Replaced by Donald Trump

Bannon was indicted in November 2021, and in the subsequent months Costello regularly traveled from his home on Long Island down to federal court in Washington, where he joined two others on the Bannon defense team. Corcoran and Schoen took charge at the July 2022 trial and presented before the jury, which ultimately convicted him. Bannon didn’t even testify, although it’s unclear if that was his call or his lawyers’ strategy.

Bannon’s legal team immediately appealed, and U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols made the generous decision to not imprison him while the case makes its way through the higher courts. At sentencing last November, the judge made a curious statement that undermines the entire case, saying that the appeal “raises a substantial question of law that is likely to result in a reversal or an order for a new trial,” heightening the importance of having Bannon’s lawyers doggedly fight through the appeal to the very end.

That situation—dangling such an obvious gift to the contemptuous media personality—makes it all the more confounding that Bannon hasn’t paid his lawyers fully for the work they’ve done.

“The tragedy here is the judge said he expects it to be reversed on appeal. Highly unusual,” one source said.

The legal team’s reluctance to pour any more time or effort into the fight is evident by the lack of activity on their part in the appellate case in the District of Columbia. Schoen appears to be proceeding alone with the appeal, which was filed on Nov. 12 but has yet to move forward.

Notably, his co-counsel Corcoran hasn’t been filing documents.

Bannon’s drama with his lawyers has spilled over to his latest legal troubles, now in New York City. As with many other Trump-related criminal matters, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has picked up where federal prosecutors left off and revived the “We Build the Wall” investigation as a local case with state-level charges. The not-quite-double-jeopardy case is making its way forward, but now without Schoen or the other New York lawyer on the case, John W. Mitchell.

RNC Chair Teams Up With Criminal Steve Bannon to Demand More ‘Poll Watching’

Last month, Schoen and Mitchell surprised the local judge when they cited a total “communication breakdown” and said that they can’t keep working with him at all, seeking to withdraw from the case entirely. Justice Juan Merchan ordered them to stay put—essentially just to keep their names on paper—until Bannon can find new attorneys by mid-February. But a little over a week ago, the judge pushed back the deadline until the end of the month.

Corcoran and Costello declined to comment for this story. Late Sunday night, Schoen clarified that at least he had been paid in full for the work he’s done.

“I can tell you unequivocally that I have been paid and the withdrawal motion has nothing to do with that, nor is it a delay tactic,” he said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.