Trump has yet to help his Georgia co-defendants with their legal bills, a fraught test of their loyalty


Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump speaks while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, US August 12, 2023.

Evelyn Hochstein | Reuters

As former President Donald Trump and his army of attorneys prepare to formally surrender Thursday, a harsh new reality has set in for the other co-defendants charged alongside him in Georgia: Their legal bills are about to go up, and there seems to be no helping hand. way from Trump.

Attorney and defendant Gina Ellis Friday said in a post on X, Formerly known as Twitter.

Ellis is one of them 19 14 in a sprawling indictment by a grand jury in Fulton County following an investigation by District Attorney Fanny Willis. The defendants are accused of participating in a criminal effort to interfere with the results of the 2020 presidential election on behalf of then-candidate Trump.

Trump has a history of paying for at least some of his allies’ legal advisers. His entire political network, including joint fundraising committees, spent more than $70 million combined from the start of 2020 through the end of 2022 on legal fees, according to a report by OpenSecrets.

People familiar with the big billing in the Georgia case told CNBC that many of those caught up in the case can’t expect any help from Trump’s political network. Another person said he didn’t want any help from Team Trump. Those who declined to be named in this story did so to speak freely about private conversations.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

A new legal defense fund called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund, set up in July by two Trump confidants, is supposed to raise money to help Trump aides and staff with their legal bills, according to a business log reviewed by CNBC. As of Tuesday, there were no nonprofit public records showing there had been any fundraising, let alone money distribution. Michael Glassner, one of the fund’s co-founders, declined to comment.

With Trump and millions out of their reach, the co-defendants, alleged co-conspirators, and witnesses in the Georgia case are turning to their own legal defense funds online to pay their attorneys, whose fees are poised to skyrocket now that court proceedings are finally underway.

Randy Zelin, a veteran attorney who specializes in white-collar crime, said that Trump’s co-defendants can expect to pay their attorneys “seven figure if dollars,” meaning at least $1 million.

Part of the reason for the high legal fees in Trump court cases, Zelin said, is that for a lawyer, potentially representing a client aligned with Trump is fraught with pitfalls, including potentially defending the former president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election.

“You have to do and say as the former president says and does,” said Zelin.

However, he said, there are two ways a customer can pay less than the going rate. The first is if the attorney is willing to take publicity in lieu of at least some fees, he said.

The second method, according to him, is for the lawyer’s client to “turn” on one or more defendants.

Legal risk to Trump

By appointing and paying their own attorneys separately from Trump, Zelin said, the 18 defendants in Georgia have created a significant new legal risk for the former president.

Trump has a long history of using joint defense agreements, or JDAs, as they can help Trump choose an attorney and pay the bills. One of Trump’s most memorable JDA projects was with his 2016 presidential campaign manager, Paul Manafort, during the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. But as Manafort’s own legal troubles mounted, pressure grew on him to cooperate, which he did. in the end , according to The New York Times.

“She’s the one who has the gold, the rules. If I pay for your attorney, I don’t expect you to hurt me,” said Zielin.

“A mutual defense agreement…helps take care of that, and the agreement is standard with other defendants working together, so they can share information without getting stabbed in the back,” Zelin wrote in an email.

But instead of creating a mutual understanding as defendants meet with him to impeach Trump, by not helping them with their bills or making mutual defense agreements, the former president could create a dilemma where fellow defendants can cooperate with authorities against him, Zelin said.

“You want to make sure other defendants have a quality counselor who can work with your attorney—and yes, discourage the client from doing the opposite!” He said.

Legal defense funds

Several of the most high-profile defendants have launched their own legal defense funds, effectively raising money from donors to help fill the gap left by Trump’s refusal to intervene.

They include Ellis and pro-Trump attorney John Eastman, who faces nine counts and is widely considered the grandfather of the so-called “fake voters” scheme at the heart of the case.

Over the course of two years of crowdfunding, Eastman has raised nearly $500,000, according to data from his fundraising website. But he recently said in a post on his site that the money has been completely lost.

“Most of the money previously raised has either already been used up or committed,” Eastman wrote in an Aug. 18 update, telling reporters Tuesday. outside the Atlanta jail where he surrendered that he had to pay his legal fees. His attorneys did not respond to requests for comment, but have previously said he is not interested in a plea bargain.

Now it appears the former president and his attorneys are ready to throw Eastman under the bus.

Within days of Georgia’s indictment, Trump said Attorneys have indicated in interviews that they plan To blame Eastman for giving Trump bad legal advice on overturning the election. They also intend to argue that when Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the 2020 results, Trump was only acting on Eastman’s advice.

Ellis recently distanced himself from Trump and is now backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary. She has developed into a sharp critic of the former president, and has expressed frustration with Trump’s refusal to help the other defendants in Georgia.

“Why won’t MAGA, Inc. fund everyone’s defense?” I wrote Friday on X. An attorney representing Ellis in the Georgia case did not respond to a request for comment about whether his client would accept a plea bargain if one was offered.

Unlike Ellis, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark has remained firmly in Trump’s fold, according to Clark’s tweets.

Clark is among Trump’s co-defendants who are also turning to his legal defense fund for help. It has so far raised more than $30,000 with a goal of bringing in $100,000, according to the Defense Fund’s website.

A spokeswoman for a nonprofit organization that Clark runs did not respond to questions about whether he would accept a plea bargain if it meant cooperating with authorities in the case against Trump. Instead, CNBC directed the Clark Legal Defense Fund and did not answer further questions.

Kathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman in rural Coffee County, Georgia, and a fictitious Trump voter, has also been charged with tampering with voting machines in a wide-ranging 11-count indictment. Latham’s crowdfunding website asserts that she is a “retired public school teacher” and “lives on a teacher’s pension”.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Ellis, Eastman, Clark and Latham have not received any payments from entities in Trump’s sprawling political network. Since the House Select Committee’s investigation of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to FEC filings.

Robert Sinners ran for Trump Election Day 2020 political process in Georgia. Today, he is an unnamed alleged co-conspirator referred to only as “Individual 4” in the Georgia indictment, according to The Daily Beast. The offenders were not charged with any crimes.

Sinners represent a third category in Trump’s legal world: former allies burned by their closeness to Trump and who want nothing to do with the 2024 Republican presidential nominee or his political process.

“It would take an enormous amount of stupidity to count on an allegedly corrupt organization when the same organization showed such disregard for one’s well-being in the first place,” Sinners said in an email to CNBC about how he financed legal bills.

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