Lawyers, Trump and Money: Former President Spends Millions in Donor Money on Lawyers as Legal Troubles Mount


Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump The political fundraising machine collects donations in At an amazing pacebut he is spending tens of millions of dollars he brought in to pay lawyers to deal with the escalating costs Various criminal cases He is competing as he advances in the 2024 presidential campaign.

Campaign finance experts say using the money to pay for attorneys in cases unrelated to the campaign or the duties of officeholders appears to run afoul of the federal ban on the personal use of donor funds, even though the Federal Election Commission has ruled that the ban does not apply. To what are called leadership political action committees. The massive amount of money going to lawyers also increases the urgency of Trump’s campaign fundraising and legal defense, which is unfolding on multiple fronts.

Federal Election Commission records show Trump’s “Save America” ​​political action committee has paid nearly $37 million to more than 60 law firms and individual lawyers since January 2022. That represents more than half of the PAC’s total spending, according to an Associated Press analysis of the PAC’s filings. Funding for election campaigns, which represents a staggering amount compared to other political organizations.

During the first half of 2023, Save America spent more on legal costs, more than $20 million, than any other political committee it discloses to the Federal Election Commission — more than the Republican National Committee, Democratic National Committee, and National Republican Senatorial Committee During that half. combined period.

The bulk of Trump’s political action committee money went to law firms that defended Trump against a series of criminal charges or in civil lawsuits. Other lawyers, paid by contributions, worked on behalf of Trump’s companies, his children, former White House aides and the former president’s staff.

Paying the legal bills of other accusers and potential witnesses raises additional thorny ethical questions: Will lawyers paid by Trump be more loyal to him or their clients? If agents feel indebted to Trump, will they be less forthcoming about what they know?

“The way these cases are built is to get the little fish to testify against the big fish,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and professor of criminal law at George Washington University Law School. “Well, if the little fish’s lawyer was getting paid by the big fish, this would be less likely to happen.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. ___

Trump’s status as the first former president to be criminally charged, his candidacy for another term in the White House while defending himself in multiple lawsuits, and the flow of donor money to lawyers is a trifecta unparalleled in US history. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and he and his allies have criticized the long list of criminal charges and lawsuits as political attacks aimed at derailing his 2024 campaign.

But legal risk became his most powerful fundraising tool. Trump’s claim that he is the victim of a corrupt justice system bent on silencing him and his supporters is a core plank of his platform. He turned the courtroom into the scene of a campaign to bombard that message and excite his supporters.

As Trump’s civil fraud trial began in New York earlier this month, he used the intense media coverage as a megaphone. In front of the cameras spread throughout the courthouse, Trump denounced the case of State Attorney Letitia James and described it as a “witch hunt and disgrace.” James and his company are accused of inflating the value of his real estate empire to deceive banks and insurance companies.

Trump also turned his surrender in Georgia into charges of illegal planning Canceling the 2020 elections in the state In wealth fundraising. His campaign said it sold about 47,000 T-shirts, coffee mugs and a poster bearing the photo taken of the former president when he was booked in the hotel in August. In the Fulton County Jail. Overall, the campaign said it raised $9.4 million in the days after the photo was posted. According to the campaign, these funds are intended for political and campaign activities, not legal expenses.

To help pay the legal fees, Trump’s political operation also transferred millions from his political action committee, MAGA Inc.

Federal Election Commission data reveal a pattern that has evolved since Trump left office: He faces legal troubles and responds aggressively, donations from his supporters soar, and then millions of those dollars flow to the army of lawyers defending him and others embroiled in the drama. .

The second and third quarters of 2022 illustrate this cycle. Save America spent about $1.5 million on legal fees in the second quarter. During the third period, payments to attorneys rose to more than $6 million. The increase coincided with a court-mandated FBI search for top-secret documents he allegedly stored at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, home, which federal prosecutors say violated laws meant to keep classified information secret.

“The indictments may not broaden his coalition, but they certainly sharpen his coalition,” said Anthony Michael Kress, a law professor at Georgia State University. “So people who already support Donald Trump will likely insist they support him even more.”

This applies to at least some donors, who say they have no problem with their money going to lawyers.

“The first thing I thought: ‘What a crock,” said Robert Lee, a motorcycle repairman in Boca Raton, Florida, who made a small donation after the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search. “None of this has ever happened to anyone but Trump.”

When asked about a presidential campaign spending so much on legal expenses, he told me, “That would be fine for me. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

In addition to the New York business fraud case and the Georgia election case, Trump faces federal felony charges stemming from the Mar-a-Lago records case in Florida and the 2020 election subversion case in Washington, D.C., in separate New York state. In this case, he is accused of paying hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign to prevent a sexual relationship from becoming public. Trump denied the case and pleaded not guilty to charges related to the payment.

Two of Trump’s most compensated lawyers, Alina Haba and Christopher Case, flanked the former president at the defendants’ table when the trial in James’ business fraud suit began earlier this month.

Habba is the managing partner of Habba Madaio & Associates in Bedminster, New Jersey. Her small law firm, located near Trump’s golf course, received nearly $3.5 million from Save America.

Hapa has also been involved in several civil cases for Trump, according to court records, including an ongoing defamation suit brought by advice columnist E. Gene Carroll, who a jury found was sexually assaulted by Trump. Haba is his attorney in a lawsuit he filed against his niece Mary Trump and New York Times journalists over a “malicious conspiracy” he claims they hatched to obtain his income tax records.

Case left the giant firm Foley & Lardner to be one of Trump’s lawyers. His company, Chris Kise and Associates, received $2.8 million from the political action committee. Besides the fraud suit in New York, he played a key role in the Mar-a-Lago records case. Kise has deep ties to the Florida Republican Party. He has served on the transition teams of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott.

Last year, Case joined Florida-based Continental PLLC, a law firm that separately received nearly $2.9 million. Court records show two other Continental attorneys were involved in the early stages of the records case.

Critton, Luttier & Coleman, a law firm in West Palm Beach, Florida, received $3 million from Save America, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the work it carried out.

The risk of paying contributions to defense attorneys is that the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department might later decide it was an illegal personal use of campaign funds, said Ciara Torres-Spellisi, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Florida. She doubted whether such a case could be brought against Trump now because doing so could slow down ongoing federal prosecutions overseen by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith.

“But after the Mar-a-Lago and January 6 cases are concluded, I would not be surprised to see a personal use case against Trump for using those millions in donations that were supposed to go to his political campaign instead for personal use.” “Keeping him out of jail,” Torres Spellisi said.

The Federal Election Commission declined to comment for this story, but it seems unlikely to act anytime soon. The agency is headed by six commissioners, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Trump nominated all GOP commissioners. A Democratic commissioner, appointed by President Joe Biden, joined in Republicans announced in March that the personal use ban does not apply to leadership of political action committees.

Sourav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, criticized what he called the FEC’s “narrow and narrow view of the personal use ban.”

“The FEC is a dysfunctional agency that often fails to enforce the law because many commissioners do not truly support the agency’s mission and prefer to take a deregulatory approach to campaign finance laws,” Ghosh said.

He added that the laissez-faire approach allowed Trump to exploit people who gave him money to help him politically.

“It feels like donors are being used to advance Donald J. Trump’s personal interests,” Ghosh said.

In a recently unsealed lawsuitSmith and his team of prosecutors described Trump’s decision to pay the legal fees of other defendants and potential witnesses as part of a pattern of his “obstructive behavior” in his investigations. According to the filing, the former president “presents a high risk of tampering with evidence and seeking to influence or intimidate potential witnesses.”

These concerns were amplified in court records presented by Smith’s team in the Mar-a-Lago case.

About two weeks after the FBI found a trove of classified documents in a storage room, Trump contacted an employee at the Mar-a-Lago resort with whom he allegedly discussed deleting security camera footage of the property, according to the July indictment. Trump assured the employee, real estate manager Carlos de Oliveira, that he would hire a lawyer for him.

De Oliveira was later charged as the third defendant in the case. He is accused of planning with Trump and his servant, Walt Nauta, to hide the footage from investigators. Court records show De Oliveira is represented by John Irving of Earth & Water Law, a firm that received more than $338,000 in payments, according to campaign finance reports.

De Oliveira and Nota have pleaded not guilty.

Another firm, Brand Woodward Law, represents Nauta and has received more than $350,000. Prosecutors handling the Mar-a-Lago case argued at a hearing last week that Nota’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, had a conflict of interest based on his previous representation of a key government witness: a Mar-a-Lago IT worker who has since signed a cooperation agreement with the government. Woodward denied any conflict and objected to prosecutors’ description of events, and the judge in the case cut short a hearing last Thursday and rebuked prosecutors for making arguments she said had not been properly raised earlier.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff Who was charged with Trump and others in the case of election interference in Georgia, She is represented by the law firm McGuireWoods. The company received approximately $900,000.

None of this mattered to the donors contacted by the AP. Dawn Smelser of Fayetteville, North Carolina, a frequent donor to Trump’s 2024 campaign, said she supports Trump because of the “mistreatment” he has endured.

“He is fighting evil and we are helping him fight this evil,” she said.


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

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