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Trump's campaign machine is bleeding cash for legal expenses

World

Donald Trump

5 month(s) ago
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Donald Trump's political operation has helped pay the legal expenses of more than a dozen people contacted by prosecutors investigating the former president, tying up millions of dollars that otherwise could be used for his 2024 White House bid.

Reuters has identified 13 potential witnesses or co-defendants who were represented by law firms that received payments from a political group run by Trump, based on interviews and a review of court records and campaign finance disclosures. The payments were disclosed in campaign finance reports as general payments to law firms rather than specific payments to individuals.


Those law firms, which include Brand Woodward, Dhillon Law Group and Greenberg Traurig, received more than $2.1 million in the first six months of this year from Save America, a Trump group that is separate from his campaign but played a major role raising money to support him as the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

The funds represent a significant chunk of the more than $21 million that Save America's disclosures to the Federal Election Commission show it spent on legal expenses during that period, a sum that could grow substantially if the group keeps paying legal expenses that are expected to balloon in the coming year.


Some legal experts say campaign finance rules appear to allow Save America's spending on legal bills involving Trump because the group is registered as a "leadership committee," which faces few restrictions on spending. Others say, however, that prosecutors may scrutinize the payments for signs of any effort to influence witness testimony.

Four lawyers and legal experts consulted by Reuters said Trump's defense in four criminal prosecutions could cost over $50 million, more than all the money raised in the first half of this year by Trump's campaign and its top allied super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc, known as MAGA Inc.


Save America's spending on Trump's legal problems could alienate some voters.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in August found about 60% of Republicans thought it appropriate for Trump to spend political donations on his legal issues but 40% considered it inappropriate.

As its legal spending accelerated earlier this year, Save America clawed back about $12 million of the roughly $60 million it had given to MAGA Inc, which has been spending heavily on television ads backing Trump, according to financial disclosures Save America filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Jason Osborne, who advised Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, said the legal bills could make Trump rely more on other allied groups, such as the Republican Party, to cover costs around the former president's election effort.

"This is going to have an impact," Osborne said.

Reuters was not able to confirm how much money Save America spent on Trump's own lawyers versus lawyer fees for witnesses and co-defendants. Save America's Federal Election Commission filings show spending described as legal expenses accelerated early this year as prosecutors took action against Trump.

Reuters could not confirm if other Trump associates beyond the 13 identified also received support from Save America for legal bills.

A federal prosecutor said in an August court hearing that Trump's political group paid legal fees for more than a dozen witnesses associated with Trump's indictment for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

WITNESS CHANGED TESTIMONY

In another case charging Trump with mishandling classified documents, a prosecutor said in a August court filing that an unnamed witness - a Trump Organization computer specialist - changed his testimony after dropping a lawyer paid by Trump's group.

The attorney, Stanley Woodward, whose law firm received more than $200,000 from Save America in March, denied in a court filing that anyone attempted to influence the witness' testimony.

For four of the people Reuters identified - Trump aides Jason Miller, Margo Martin and Dan Scavino as well as Trump Organization employee Matt Calamari Jr. - sources familiar with their situations confirmed that Trump's political group covered at least part of their legal bills.

Another source identified Trump Organization employee Yuscil Taveras as the unnamed computer specialist whose fees prosecutors said were paid by Trump's political group.

Lawyers for Scavino and Taveras, who is now represented by a public defender, declined to comment. Miller and Martin did not respond to requests for comment. Calamari Jr. did not respond to a request for comment made through the Trump Organization.

Eight other people - Trump employees Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira who are co-defendants in the classified documents case; his current and former aides Michael Roman, Boris Epshteyn and Taylor Budowich; and former Trump administration officials William Russell, Kash Patel and Brian Jack - were represented by law firms that received money from Save America, according to sources familiar with their situations, court filings, campaign finance disclosures and their own public statements.

Roman, who was indicted alongside Trump by a Georgia prosecutor for allegedly trying to overturn Trump's 2020 loss in the state, is also asking for public donations to pay the law firm representing him, Dhillon Law Group.

Roman and Epshteyn declined to comment, as did lawyers for Nauta, Jack, Patel, De Oliveira, Budowich and Russell.

Trump's legal spokesperson Alina Habba, who is also general counsel at Save America, did not respond to detailed questions on the payments. Nor did Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung.

In July, after Save America reported its legal expenses to the Federal Election Commission, Cheung said Save America was helping people who had worked for Trump avoid "financial ruin." Asked how legal spending would affect his campaign, Trump told a SiriusXM podcast earlier this month: "Fortunately, I have a lot more money."

Trump has also raised millions of dollars off his legal troubles, including by selling T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with his mug shot.

Legal fees are set to grow as Trump's four criminal trials get underway. Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, estimated Trump's legal fees could top $100 million, which is on the higher end of estimates offered by experts. Save America and the Trump campaign have not responded to requests for comment on the legal fee estimates.

source: Reuters