Stephen Miller now a target of DOJ investigation — will he be the one to flip on Trump?

Trump's infamous "hatemonger" and the Save America PAC now face a federal probe. This could change everything

By Gregg Barak

Contributing Writer

Published September 12, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Stephen Miller and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Stephen Miller and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

After Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, a slew of political operatives came and went throughout his presidency, including permanent and "acting" Cabinet appointments, West Wing aides and advisers, and any number of administrative officials. Trump eventually secured, as far as possible, a group of folks around him who either agreed with him or would always defer to him if they did not. 

Two of the most influential and trusted figures behind Trump and Trumpism were Steve. Bannon and Stephen Miller. Together, they wrote much of Trump's 2017 State of the Union address to Congress. They influenced and shaped policy, and helped Trump stoke white voters' resentment toward immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters, cancel culture, "wokeness" and the teaching of critical race theory. 

Bannon the "tactician" and Miller the "hatemonger" were the twin oracles behind economic nationalism and the America First ideology with its range of combative and odious techniques. Bannon certainly can take as much credit as anybody for Trump's 2016 Electoral College victory as well as for the Capitol insurrection in January 2021. Before there was Trumpism, there was a barely visible subterranean political movement both at home and abroad that we might call Bannonism. 

Bannon had been waiting for more than a decade for, shall we say, the alt-right candidate to come along to personify his vision of a deconstructed state. His imagined vessel (if not himself) was more likely to be someone on his intellectual wavelength, like long-ago House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also ran for the Republican nomination in 2016. 

Eventually, Trump became that vessel as he and Bannon turned out to be kindred spirits with similar passions. In his new book, former Trump adviser Peter Navarro makes the unsurprising claim that Trump wanted to "fire" Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, along with 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, and replace them both with Bannon. But Trump, Navarro claims, lacked the nerve to personally confront Kushner.

In any case, Bannon awaits sentencing next month for his jury conviction on two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the House select committee's subpoena as a part of their investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol breach. We also know that Bannon pleaded not guilty last Thursday to serious state charges in New York for money laundering, conspiracy and wire fraud — essentially the same federal charges for which the former president pardoned Bannon during his final day in office. 

If convicted of donor fraud relating to a scheme to raise money for the construction of Trump's infamous border wall, Bannon could be looking at five to 15 years in prison. This past April, two of his co-conspirators, Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, pled guilty to similar offenses in federal court. 

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But it now appears that the Department of Justice could be working its way circuitously toward a criminal indictment of Stephen Miller for a variety of felonies, including seditious conspiracy. If my speculation here is correct, Miller may become even more infamous than Bannon is. The former speechwriter and policy wonk, in my judgment, is more likely to be the one who ultimately flips and fingers the former president for multiple crimes. 

This has to do with procedural differences between the select committee's investigation of Jan. 6 and the DOJ's grand jury investigation of Trump's Save America PAC. Unlike in the former investigation, where Miller invoked "executive privilege," in the latter investigation he would have to invoke the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid testifying.     

If Merrick Garland is working his way circuitously toward a criminal indictment of Stephen Miller on charges of seditious conspiracy, that could change history.

Should I be wrong about this, which is quite possible, then Miller will be remembered as the architect of Trump's anti-Muslim ban, his "family separation" policy and a range of restrictive immigration policies more generally. Miller also influenced the Department of Homeland Security policy that narrowed its focus on terrorism almost exclusively to immigrants and refugees. One of his Miller's specialties was the persistent demonization of migrants, conjuring up images of hordes of brown invaders crossing our southern borders to "rape our women, steal our jobs, and spill our blood." 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Miller also promoted conspiracy theories and spread propaganda from white nationalist publications. Finally, as a spokesman for the White House for four years and as a co-conspirator in Trump's Stop the Steal campaign, Miller also peddled unsubstantiated and mendacious claims about widespread electoral fraud.   

Last April, Miller testified virtually for eight hours before the House Jan. 6 panel about his role in the former president's schemes to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Miller pushed back about Trump's "intent" and his use of the word "we" during his 75-minute speech on the Ellipse, testifying that Trump's incitements were merely rhetorical devices and not meant to be taken literally.  

Miller was also questioned by the House investigators about the scheme to send slates of "fake" pro-Trump electors to Congress on Jan. 6 from several battleground states. When asked about Trump's claims about election fraud, Miller told the select committee that the election was stolen and even tried to raise so-called evidence. We also know that Miller and the committee had heated exchanges and that Miller invoked executive privilege regarding several conversations that he had with Trump.   

It is safe to assume that had Miller's testimony in any way bolstered the select committee's claims that Trump had "engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States by seeking to obstruct a lawful function of the government by deceitful or dishonest means," the televised committee hearings would have shared this information with the American public.    

But it now appears that things are about to change for Trump's hatemonger, as they already have for his tactician. As The Hill reported last week, Miller was "one of more than a dozen people connected to the former president who received subpoenas … from a federal grand jury seeking information related to Trump's Save America PAC" and the fake-elector scheme. Save America is a multimillion-dollar grift revolving around Trump's Big Lies that has reportedly taken in $1 million a day since Trump announced to the world that the FBI had searched his home and office at Mar-a-Lago for classified documents he had taken there from the White House.

This federal investigation into the Save America PAC and its connections to many other Trump illicit endeavors — especially the failed insurrection of Jan. 6 and his likely 2024 presidential campaign — could make Bannon's donor scam about building an imaginary wall look like much ado about nothing. If Stephen Miller goes down, it will be for Trump's greatest grift of all.

By Gregg Barak

Gregg Barak is an emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University, co-founder and North American editor of the Journal of White Collar and Corporate Crime, and author of "Criminology on Trump." He is currently writing a sequel, "Indicting the 45th President: Boss Trump, the GOP, and What We Can Do About the Threat to American Democracy," to be published in 2024.

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Analysis Donald Trump Justice Department Save America Pac Stephen Miller Steve Bannon