CNN  — 

The arrest of former White House political adviser Steve Bannon Thursday on charges of fraud related to fundraising for the construction of a private border wall with Mexico is, quite literally, the single most emblematic storyline of the Trump era in Washington.

Consider this story arc:

1) Bannon, after years of toiling in the fever swamps of the far-conservative right, signs on as an adviser to Trump’s decidedly long-shot presidential campaign. It’s a marriage of convenience – and necessity. Bannon isn’t getting a whole lot of offers to serve as a senior adviser to a presidential campaign. Trump can’t attract any high-end staff or advisers – all of whom are too wary of his past provocations and scared off by his infinitesimal chances of actually winning.

2) Bannon guides Trump to not just the Republican nomination but the presidency – pushing Trump’s border wall proposal to the center of the campaign and running as much against the media as any Republican or Democratic opponent.

3) Trump rewards Bannon by installing him as chief political strategist in the White House.

4) Less than nine months into his first term, Trump fires Bannon following the strategist’s attempt to amplify rather than explain away the President’s comments in the wake of the White nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter-protester dead. Bannon, on his way out the door, declares that “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”

5) In the wake of the release of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which paints Trump and his White House in a horrible light and in which Bannon is extensively quoted, Trump throws his former adviser under the bus. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump says in a harshly worded statement in January 2018, adding, “Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was.” In a tweet around that same time, Trump derides Bannon as “Sloppy Steve.”

6) Within 18 months, Trump is back to kind of, sort of praising Bannon. “Nice to see that one of my best pupils is still a giant Trump fan,” the President tweets, with a video clip of Bannon praising him on CNBC attached, in August 2019. “Steve joined me after I won the primaries, but I loved working with him!”

7) Bannon, taking advantage of now being Trump-adjacent again, starts an organization called “We Build The Wall” that promises to fund the construction of a privately built wall along the US-Mexico border. And that operation, according to federal prosecutors, uses a chunk of the $25 million it raised from donors to pay his own personal expenses.

Whew. So, the Bannon story goes like this:

Conservative agitator → campaign insider → political mastermind → top White House aide → “Sloppy Steve” → somewhat-redeemed former aide → alleged grifter on the Trump brand.

What a story!

And the Bannon storyline is far from an exception in Trump world. In fact, when it comes to some of his top advisers during that 2016 campaign, it’s more like the rule. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is presently serving a 7.5-year sentence after being convicted of tax and banking crimes. Trump political Svengali Roger Stone was convicted on seven counts tied to lying to Congress about the nature of his ties to WikiLeaks. (His sentence was commuted by Trump last month.) Trump foreign policy adviser and top campaign surrogate Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with Russians during the transition. (In May, the Justice Department announced it was dropping the case against Flynn.) Former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. (Cohen is currently under home confinement after being transferred from prison amid coronavirus concerns.)

Which is a remarkable run of criminality. And clashes directly with then-candidate Trump’s promise in August 2015 that “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people. We want top of the line professionals.” (Amazingly, Trump said those words to explain his decision to part ways with, wait for it, Roger Stone!)

The simple truth is that the story of Bannon is, in many ways, the story of Trump’s presidency. The billionaire businessman has attracted all sorts of third-rate political consultants, grifters and assorted hangers-on, elevated them to positions of power, cast them out of those positions and then watched as they aimed to cash in on their moment in the sun – whether via a tell-all book or, in Bannon’s case, an alleged nest-feathering scheme.

If you can tell a man by the company he keeps, then Bannon’s ties to Trump tells us everything we need to know about the 45th president.