Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Trump strategist Bannon won't be charged in Miami voter registration probe

MIAMI — White House chief strategist Steve Bannon won't face criminal charges related to his mysterious voter registration in Miami-Dade County.

Prosecutors announced Thursday that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bannon, President Donald Trump's special assistant, broke the law when he signed up to vote in Miami-Dade County after leasing homes in Coconut Grove — even though he seemed to spend most of his time outside of Florida.

"To 'reside' at a location is a nebulous concept that depends on a person's actions and their subjective state of mind," according to a final memo released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. "The Florida case law interpreting (voter residency) is both sparse and antique."

Investigators were looking at a narrow question: whether Bannon lied to the elections department about his residency when he twice filed to be a voter in Miami-Dade.

Prosecutors ultimately concluded that the evidence "tends to indicate" that Bannon "did not intend to or actually reside in Miami-Dade County" between 2014 and 2016. But there was enough contradictory evidence — including Bannon calling the Grove property "my house" in an email to a fellow political operative — to create "reasonable doubt" before a jury.

RELATED: Long before Trump hired him, Steve Bannon was making deals and kindling political fires in Florida.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office had been investigating the matter since August, when The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that Trump's newly minted campaign chief could have violated the law by registering to vote in Miami.

Bannon never voted in Miami-Dade County.

That month, the elections department confirmed the criminal probe. The investigation was publicized again last month when The Washington Post chronicled Bannon's long and enigmatic history of addresses in Florida, New York and California.

Bannon, former editor of the right-wing website Breitbart, has emerged as a polarizing figure during Trump's candidacy and his fledgling presidency.

During their probe, investigators subpoenaed records on two homes leased by Bannon in the Grove and interviewed neighbors and the property owners.

The investigation revealed that Bannon first leased a home on Opechee Drive in April 2014, along with ex-wife Diane Clohesy, who told the home's owner that Bannon "needed a place to stay while he was in Miami." Clohesy also told prosecutors "he did in fact stay with her" during those years.

The owner testified that Bannon would visit the house at least three times a year, and the rent was always paid by Bannon's office.

Investigators also interviewed Miami political consultant A.J. Delgado, who said she met with Bannon at the home and saw "boxes, papers and effects in the house that indicated to her that (he) was living at the house." Delgado made the same claims on Twitter after the Guardian article first appeared.

Then in January 2015, Bannon leased a nearby home on Onaway Drive — leasing paperwork listed him and Clohesy as the tenants.

In trying to determine if Bannon actually lived at the home, prosecutors found that he had an active California driver's license but his address had not been updated since March 2013. He was also "associated with a number of properties in California and New York" but none were listed as his chief residence for tax purposes.

But prosecutors could not definitely say that Bannon did not consider the Miami homes his primary residence.

"Especially in our increasingly mobile society, a person may spend the majority of his or her nights at one (or multiple) locations, but legally reside at another under Florida law," prosecutors said. "For example, reporters embedded with a national political campaign often sleep in different jurisdictions every night, but they are still able to claim legal residency at a home base."

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