Trump spent $10 million from his PAC on his legal bills last year

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the 2023 New Hampshire Republican State Committee Annual Meeting in Salem, NH on January 28, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the 2023 New Hampshire Republican State Committee Annual Meeting in Salem, NH on January 28, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Former President Donald Trump, who throughout his business career had a reputation for not paying lawyers, spent about $10 million from his political action committee on his own legal fees last year, federal election filings show.

The money that went toward Trump’s legal bills was part of more than $16 million that Trump’s PAC, Save America, used for legal-related payments in 2021 and 2022, the filings show.

Some of the $16 million appears to have gone to lawyers representing witnesses in investigations related to Trump’s efforts to cling to power. But the bulk of that — about $10 million — went to firms that directly represented Trump in a variety of investigations and lawsuits, including some related to his business, the filings showed.

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Trump was notorious in New York City before he won the presidency in 2016 for refusing to pay his bills to a wide range of service providers and contractors. Lawyers were no exception, with Trump often saying people got free publicity by being involved with him.

The recent spending related to Trump is notable not only for its sheer volume — it represented about 19% of the PAC’s total spending outside of transfers to one of his other political committees and those supporting other candidates — but also because Trump is now a declared candidate for president again.

Some campaign finance experts are raising questions about whether Trump, as a candidate, can continue to use the PAC to pay for his personal legal bills. These questions come as he faces legal challenges on multiple fronts as well as intense scrutiny by the Justice Department and prosecutors in Georgia and New York.

According to some campaign finance experts, having the PAC continue to pay his legal bills now that he is a candidate would be seen as a contribution to him and therefore subject to legal limits.

“Payments from a PAC that exceed the contribution limit are contributions to the candidate and are illegal,” said Jason Torchinsky, a campaign finance expert and attorney at the firm Holtzman Vogel, referring to the limit on individual donations to candidates, which is set at $3,300 for the current two-year political cycle.

Adav Noti, of the Campaign Legal Center, a group that has called on the Federal Election Commission to more strictly enforce rules on personal use of campaign donations, called what is allowed a “gray area.” The Federal Election Commission has yet to provide the guidance on the issue that campaign finance experts have sought.

The vast majority of Trump’s PAC money was raised before he officially entered the 2024 presidential race on November 15. At the end of last year, the PAC had just over $18 million in cash on hand, its federal filings show.

The Justice Department has subpoenaed documents from vendors paid by the PAC, including law firms, in an attempt to determine what they were paid for.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to an email asking if Trump would still use Save America for his personal legal bills. Trump’s PAC was formed in late 2020 after the November election, when Trump raised huge sums of money by promising to fight what he claimed was widespread election fraud.

Trump spent some of the money on fruitless efforts to show widespread voter fraud. He also used it to defend himself against various matters related to the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on January 6, 2021. The PAC, which Trump’s advisers created, allowed general use of the money as long as it did not directly do so. support a future candidacy.

The largest single payment Trump made from PAC money to a law firm last year — $3 million — went to the Florida-based law firm Critton, Luttier and Coleman, which is associated with Christopher M. Kise, a former Florida solicitor general. Kise originally joined Trump’s team to address the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and is now involved in defending Trump and his company in a fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Another $930,000 went to Continental, a law firm where Kise is an attorney, the records show.

Another $1.3 million went to Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White, the firm of Evan Corcoran, a lawyer who began working with Trump last spring. Corcoran was brought into Trump’s circle by Boris Epshteyn, a strategist who has played a coordinating role with some of the lawyers in cases involving Trump as the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents was heating up. (Epshteyn’s firm was paid $195,000, but for broader strategic advice, not specific legal advice.)

The Justice Department recently filed a motion to compel Corcoran, who has appeared before a federal grand jury investigating Trump’s handling of classified documents, to testify further, citing the felony fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege. The request means that prosecutors have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services may have been used by Trump or one of his allies to further a crime.

Another $1.2 million or so was paid to Ifrah Law, the firm of Jim Trusty, a former federal prosecutor whom Trump saw on TV and decided to hire.

About 1.3 million dollars went to the law firm Michael van der Veen. Van der Veen represented Trump in his second impeachment trial and last year represented the Trump Organization in a tax fraud lawsuit brought by the Manhattan district attorney. Trump’s company lost on all 17 counts.

Another roughly $2 million was paid to the firm of Alina Habba, which represents Trump in a number of cases, including the New York attorney general and two lawsuits filed by E. Jean Carroll, a New York writer who says Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s.

Habba is also representing Trump in a lawsuit against The New York Times over its reporting on Trump’s tax returns, a libel suit in Pennsylvania and in a case against Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.

There have been various smaller payments to a constellation of other lawyers who have worked with Trump on matters including the investigation in Fulton County, Georgia, into possible election law violations and the subpoena he received from the House of Representatives committee on Jan. 6. These attorneys include Jesse Binnall, Harmeet Dhillon and Tim Parlatore, as well as the firms of Earth and Water, Level Law, Weber Crabb and Wein and Wilenchik and Bartness.

Some of these firms also represent or advise other witnesses in the Trump investigation, such as former White House counsel Peter Navarro.

One person the money has not been used for is Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal attorney. Trump told aides in late 2020 that he would not have Giuliani paid for his work on Trump’s behalf unless he succeeded in overturning the election results, and Giuliani’s own legal fees have not been covered by Save America.

Questions about which lawyers and salespeople were paid and for what intensified after the House Select Committee investigating Trump’s efforts to cling to power told the Justice Department it had evidence that a lawyer who represented a witness, had tried to coach her testimony in ways. it would be positive for Trump. The witness in question was later identified by people familiar with the committee’s work as Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide.

Her attorney at the time, Stefan Passantino, was a former deputy White House attorney under Trump and was paid through Save America. He has denied the allegations and has said he represented her “honestly, ethically and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me.”

© 2023 The New York Times Company

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