Trump's very expensive, not-so-great lawyers are funded by an unreliable money well

trump's very expensive, not-so-great lawyers are funded by an unreliable money well

Former President Donald Trump stands with his lawyer Alina Habba as she speaks to the media at one of his properties, 40 Wall Street, following closing arguments at his civil fraud trial on January 11, 2024 in N.Y..

Recent campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) detailed Donald Trump’s political action committees’ (PACs) expenditures in 2023, providing some stunning information: Two of his leadership PACs, Save America and Make America Great Again, spent more than $50 million total in legal expenses, $29 million in the last half of 2023 alone. Save America, which is “the primary vehicle to pay Trump’s legal expenses,” according to NBC News, spent $21 million in the first half of 2023, with over 47 law firms and attorneys the recipients of funds, per its FEC filing. The PAC’s previously reported spending around $16 million through 2022 on legal expenses. That’s a huge bump in legal spend in just one year alone.

Consider also the fact that all of Trump’s PACs raised about $213 million dollars and expended around $210 million, almost 25% of which was spent on lawyers and law firms for his many ongoing legal cases.

But what exactly is Trump getting for all of this money? Those lawyers who are willing, in some cases, to gamble their professional reputations and credibility to take on Trump’s defense don’t come cheap, even if the value and quality of their skills and competency are sometimes questioned. For example, the recent Save America FEC filing for 2023 reflects that Alina Habba, Trump’s attorney in the most recent E. Jean Carroll defamation trial, was paid nearly $4 million. And yet, courtesy of Habba’s less-than-stellar trial performance coupled with Trump’s petulant and disrespectful antics both inside and outside of the courtroom, the jury returned a whopping $83.3 million defamation verdict against Trump, inclusive of $65 million in punitive damages. That $4 million spent by Save America bought Trump a failure to properly preserve the record on appeal, dozens of overruled objections, several verbal warnings and admonishments from the judge before the jurors, and threats from the judge to throw Habba into the lockup if she didn’t stop talking. That’s some very expensive on-the-job training.

Then you’ve got Chris Kise, the attorney representing Trump in the Mar-a-Lago case, who was reportedly paid almost $5 million, and Todd Blanche and Todd Lauro, Trump’s lawyers in the D.C. election interference case, who were paid $1.9 million and $2.5 million, respectively, according to a report on Trump’s campaign finance reports by The Independent. We have seen and heard the beyond-the-pale arguments being advanced in the DC case wherein he asserts the unprecedented claim that he has absolute presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Who is making these arguments on his behalf? The lawyers who will go down in the history books with asterisks next to their names. And don’t forget the lawyer for Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump in the NY AG’s civil fraud case: Clifford Robert, who was paid approximately $4 million.

As noted above, more than 47 lawyers and law firms were compensated, some quite handsomely, by the Save America PAC in 2023 for their services for a total of more than $50 million for legal consulting and fees. Makes you wonder if these lawyers have found their golden tickets — but, of course, at what cost? Perhaps for them, being paid millions of dollars justifies potentially losing your professional credibility and reputation. With the PAC making those payments, they also have little concern of non-payment for services rendered. Will these lawyers have the staying power to last into 2025, should these cases not go to trial this year? If these campaign donations dry up, and the PACs run out of money, it’s likely the lawyers will pack their briefcases and exit stage left. It’s hard to imagine that any lawyer will work for free for Trump.

Furthermore, is it even legal for these leadership PACs to be using campaign funds to pay for Trump’s legal fees? The answer isn’t as black and white as you’d think. As a general proposition, a PAC cannot pay expenses linked directly to a campaign and a campaign committee cannot use its monies for a candidate’s personal expenses. However, in Trump’s case — or in this instance, in his multiple cases — because he alleges that they are not personal expenses and are instead related to or involving his political candidacy and/or his former job as the president, he claims that he is allowed to use the leadership PACs to cover his legal expenses.

Before you go rushing off to defend the honor of those Trump donors (many of whom are small-dollar donors) thinking they are being duped by Trump, the donors are warned, albeit in fine print, that 90 cents of every dollar donated goes to Trump’s campaign committees and 10 cents goes specifically to the Save America PAC. Interestingly, the NY Times reports that when Trump launched his re-election campaign in November of 2022, 99 cents went to his campaign with only a penny going to the Save America PAC. The change from a penny to 10 cents occurred sometime in February or March of 2023 the Times reported based on a review of Trump’s campaign disclosures. The change appears to coincide with Trump’s own escalating legal exposure. In January of 2023, Justice Arthur Engoron, the presiding judge in the New York Attorney General’s civil fraud case, denied the motions to dismiss for Trump, his adult sons, and several of his businesses.

Justice Engoron made it clear that he would go to trial in October of 2023, “come Hell or high water,” so those defendants knew that a bench trial in 2023 was inevitable. Then, in March, Trump was indicted by the Manhattan DA’s Office for his alleged falsification of business records to hide hush-money payments made to adult film actress, Stormy Daniels. Recall that by that time, Trump had already been indicted in the Southern District of Florida for his mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home and just a few months later in late July, a superseding indictment in that MAL case would be released, adding the club’s property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, as the third defendant in that case. And in August of 2023, Trump was federally indicted in Washington, D.C. for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and then indicted on Aug. 15th in Fulton County, Georgia, for his efforts to overturn those same results in that state. As the year progressed and Trump kept logging more and more criminal cases, the need for the money to cover legal expenses was snowballing.

Given that this money came directly from two specific leadership PACs, the reality is it’s Trump’s supporters who are sending in their small-dollar donations who are paying for these lawyers and law firms. So what happens if Trump loses in November 2024 and he fails to regain the Oval Office? Will these donors continue to cover Trump’s legal bills? Or will he have to dig deep into his own pockets? More importantly, will Trump’s existing stable of lawyers be willing to continue to represent him if the money well runs dry?

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