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Features & Columns

Trump Has Used $58.4M of Campaign Funds to Pay His Legal Bills

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Trump Has Used $58.4M of Campaign Funds to Pay His Legal Bills

2020-09-08 17:02:18

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)

 

An investigation on the part of The New York Times has shown where tens of millions of the funds given to Donald Trump's campaign are going — to pay his mountain of legal bills. He's always been known as one to head to court over disagreements, and it seems the campaign has given him the funding he needs to carry it out.

There are many, many cases where he's either had to defend himself or where he's been the aggressor. In New York, his legal team was seeking damages of more than $1 million from a former campaign worker. She'd claimed she was subjected to sexual discrimination and harassment by another aide. The legal team was paid more than $1.5 million by the campaign for that case and others.

Down in Washington, Trump and the campaign hired attorneys to assist staff and his family who were involved in the Russia and Ukraine investigations. This included a former bodyguard, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner. The Republican National Committee paid at least $2.5 million to law firms for this and other legal work.

Over in California, Trump filed a lawsuit to block a law that would have forced him to release his taxes if he wanted to be added to the 2020 ballot. It's a separate suit than the one he's fighting with the House Democrats and the one's continuing to appeal with the Manhattan district attorney. The campaign and the RNC paid the law firm that handled this case and others $1.8 million.

These are just some of the cases that made up the $58.4 million in donations on legal bills and compliance work since Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, according to The New York Times and the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

To compare, former President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee paid $10.7 million in legal and compliance expenses during an equivalent period starting in 2007. Former President George W. Bush spent less as well, and he was in the legal fight of his political life during the election recount in 2000.

The legal spending for Trump includes the routine legal cases all presidents and candidates face and some related to the Russia investigation and his impeachment. Additionally, it includes legal efforts that are more personal to him, such as enforcing nondisclosure agreements and legal action that concerns his business interests.

Many of the bills are being paid through the Republican National Committee's "recount account." This fund was created after Congress agreed to allow much larger contributions by individuals in 2014. Campaign finance lawyers on both sides of the aisle requested it. Before, the limit was $2,800 per person – it's now $106,500.

It's not known how much of the $58.4 million was spent on routine legal work. The payments aren't itemized by case. It's also hard to separate the cases Trump initiated and those where he's the defendant. There is also legal spending on behalf of the campaign as it continues to fight Democratic mail-in voting efforts.

Using donations to pay legal expenses is allowed by campaign finance law, but Trump has stretched that permission that has left some Republicans a little uncomfortable. They're looking at the money going out for his efforts to enforce NDAs with former staff members.

"Vindicating President Trump's personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party, they are one and the same — and that includes the legal fights the party is paying for now," said campaign finance attorney Matthew T. Sanderson, who worked with Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and John McCain when they were candidates.

RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt blamed the Democrats and other liberals for the largeness of the spending. "The RNC is more than happy to cover the costs of defending the president from the Democrats' baseless litigation and partisan impeachment sham," she said.

The $58.4 million does not include the work Rudy Giuliani has done. He's doing it pro bono. It also doesn't include the work the Justice Department has done for him in their efforts to defend him on certain issues.

Trump's reliance on big donations has led to concern that his big donors from Wall Street, the coal industry, and others expect special favors in return. The donors who have sent large amounts since 2019 to the special RNC account include Joseph Craft, the chief executive of a coal mining company; Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group; Thomas J. Barrack Jr.; private equity investors; and members of the Fertittas, a Las Vegas family who owns a casino.

"That is an absurd and unfounded allegation," said Merritt in answer to the suggestion donations were made to influence the president. "Our donors are highly motivated by Democrats' radical attempts to try and take away the voice of the American people by gaming the elections through the courts and fully support our right to uphold election integrity, fight back against impeachment, and challenge Democrats' attack on the president."

There have also been large legal bills for the people surrounding Trump. Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner needed representation for the Russia investigation. Campaign donations have paid for those, as well as White House adviser Hope Hicks's legal bills, another campaign adviser, those of a former Trump bodyguard, and the campaign's former manager, Corey Lewandowski.

Tuesday saw the release of Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen's tell-all. At one point Trump was paying his bills. After the FBI raided his office and home, Trump said that most people would flip in that situation. Yet, he added, "I don't see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!" 

A few months later, Cohen flipped, and the Trump campaign stopped paying his legal bills. It will be interesting to see if he discusses his moment of flipping and what it meant for him legally in his book.

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