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Spiraling Legal Bills Threaten Trump With a Cash Crunch


Donald J. Trump’s legal problems aren’t just piling up — his legal bills are, too.

New financial reports show that the former president’s various political committees and the super PAC backing him have used roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent so far this year on legal-related costs. The total amounts to more than $27 million in legal fees and other investigation-related bills in the first six months of 2023, according to a New York Times analysis of federal records.

That $27 million in legal costs includes Mr. Trump paying at least eight law firms more than $1 million each in the first half of 2023, part of a sizable set of legal billings expected to spiral upward in the coming months as his overlapping criminal cases wind their way toward courtrooms in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C.

The new disclosures revealed the remarkable degree to which Mr. Trump’s political and legal cash are intermingled, much like his own political and legal fate.

Mr. Trump’s complex political orbit is already spending more than it is taking in, and tapping into money it raised years ago — an unusual trajectory this far out from an election. And the burn rate raises questions about whether such an approach is untenable, or whether Mr. Trump will eventually need to dip into his own fortune to pay for his lawyers, his 2024 campaign or both.

It is a step that the famously tightfisted Mr. Trump has resisted taking, even as his advisers have begun planning behind the scenes for a potential political cash crunch months before the primaries begin.

Mr. Trump is not known for long-term planning, so it remains unclear how much he has focused on the intricate challenges of financing his campaign in the coming months. Some close to him say they are reassured by the fact that if he becomes the presidential nominee again, he can rely on the Republican Party to provide financial support.

“President Trump continues to be the campaign fund-raising leader due to the support from voters who recognize this as an illegal witch-hunt,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, in a statement. “As President Trump has said, he will spend whatever it takes to defeat the Deep State and Crooked Joe Biden.”

All told, the political committees that Mr. Trump directly controls, along with the independently operated super PAC devoted exclusively to helping him, are spending more than they raised so far in 2023 — largely because of his legal expenditures, the filings show.

Those entities brought in $67.2 million in new donations in the first half of the year and spent about $90 million in the same period. Most of the money that went to legal fees did not come from new donations, the records show. Save America, the PAC doing the bulk of the legal spending, raised much of its funds in the aftermath of the 2020 election and plunged $16 million into legal expenses in 2022. It’s nearly been bled dry.

“This is going to be an incredibly expensive proposition,” said Ben Brafman, a prominent criminal defense lawyer who is not involved in Mr. Trump’s cases. Of Mr. Trump’s three indictments, he added, “Not only is he now dealing with three separate jurisdictions, and nobody really knows which case is going to come first, but they all need to be investigated, researched and prepared at the same time by his attorneys.”

The fund-raising records show that the indictments have been a boon in many ways. Being charged with crimes turbocharged Mr. Trump’s fund-raising — at least temporarily.

A breathtaking 40 percent of every dollar he raised online in the first six months of 2023 came in the two one-week periods around his first two indictments, the Times analysis found, peaking at nearly $4 million the day of his first arraignment. The surge was a sign of both the degree to which his fund-raising had been lagging before the first indictment, and the intensity of the support it unleashed.

Entering July, Mr. Trump had more cash on hand in his campaign committee, $22.5 million, than at the start of the year and more than any one of the rest of the 2024 presidential candidates.

And Mr. Trump continues to fund-raise heavily off the criminal charges, with small online donors giving at a pace that dwarfs that of every other rival: nearly $46 million in the first half of the year, with an average donation of under $35.

But across the broader Trump sphere, the signs of fiscal strain are showing.

In one unusual transaction, Mr. Trump’s Save America PAC asked for a refund on the $60 million it had transferred last year to the super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., that was expected to chiefly pay for television ads. Already, $12.25 million has been returned to the account that mostly pays for legal bills. In another move, Mr. Trump began redirecting more of every dollar raised into that same account.

Mr. Cheung accused Mr. Biden and the Justice Department’s special counsel, Jack Smith, of using the government’s “unlimited resources” to try “to force the Trump campaign to spend, spend, spend to defend innocent Americans who have been targeted.”

Mr. Trump’s 2024 campaign committee, which is separate from both the Save America PAC and the MAGA Inc. super PAC, has not technically spent any money on investigation-related lawyers, and some experts believe doing so would be forbidden. His Save America PAC has covered such bills. But the complex web of entities that make up how a modern-day presidential bid is financed is often perceived as one big campaign apparatus, even though the rules governing how each entity spends are different. For example, campaign finance rules prevent Mr. Trump from directing the spending by the super PAC.

Mr. Trump’s attorney fees are only expected to rise in the coming months as he hurtles toward two federal criminal trials — one in Florida, one in Washington, D.C. — and a third in Manhattan. He is likely to face a fourth criminal indictment in Georgia. And he has multiple civil trials in the coming months, too.

Mr. Brafman, the veteran defense attorney, suggested that “individually each case in federal court could involve several millions of dollars in fees.”

Investigations involving Mr. Trump are ongoing, including into his fund-raising in the wake of the 2020 election, which was when most of Save America PAC’s funds were collected. Mr. Smith, the special counsel who brought charges last week against Mr. Trump related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, has also focused on whether Mr. Trump’s advisers knew he lost but solicited money from supporters anyway to fight baseless claims of widespread fraud.

Mr. Trump himself has begun to complain about the cases diverting his money.

“Resources that would have gone into Ads and Rallies, will now have to be spent fighting these Radical Left thugs in numerous courts,” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social, in recent days.

His advisers — both legal and political — insist the investigations are simply an effort to broadly drain his coffers.

One of Mr. Trump’s many attorneys, John Lauro, said on Fox News within minutes of the third indictment being made public that the former president is “being forced to spend money on legal defense, which should be spent on the discussion of critical ideas and critical issues.”

For the first time since he won the Republican nomination seven years ago, Mr. Trump has also spoken seriously in recent days about the possibility of putting his own money into his race. His team has already implemented some cost controls, slowing the pace of expensive rallies, which can cost more than $300,000 per event.

Mr. Trump has sought to offload at least some of the legal costs his political accounts have been bearing. His team recently set up a legal-defense fund for allies who have been ensnared in various congressional and criminal investigations and whose bills Mr. Trump has been paying through his PAC.

It’s not clear precisely whose bills will be paid by the fund, but the list could include Trump associates who are witnesses and co-defendants in the cases against him.

Trump-aligned groups also paid legal bills for some White House aides who testified in the congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack, an arrangement that critics said was an attempt to influence their testimony (Mr. Trump’s advisers have denied the allegation). Mr. Trump has said the groups are simply trying to help friends and allies who have been caught up in politically motivated investigations.

Mr. Trump’s own bills are not currently expected to be covered by the legal-defense fund.

Elkan Abramowitz, a lawyer representing David Pecker, the former National Enquirer parent company executive who was a grand jury witness in the Manhattan case against Mr. Trump, said the sheer energy and attention these complex cases demand can be overwhelming.

He said the kinds of lawyers involved typically charge $1,500 to $2,000 an hour, and that during trials, teams of people can work up to 16 hours a day.

“It’s going to cost him a lot of money,” said Mr. Abramowitz. “It’s also going to cost him a lot of time,” he added, noting that Mr. Trump will be required to be at his criminal trials in person.

Financially, Mr. Trump has an escape hatch that few other candidates have: his own bank accounts. But since winning the party’s nomination in 2016, he has resisted tapping his own funds, asking small contributors and big donors alike to pay for his political ambitions. Along the way, his committees have spent lavishly on his own properties, directing millions of dollars back to his businesses.

The decision to use donor dollars to pay his legal bills has generated increasing backlash among 2024 rivals, with the loudest criticism coming from former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and other Republicans.

Bill Barr, Mr. Trump’s former attorney general, said on CNN last week that the practice was “nauseating.”

“This guy claims to be a multibillionaire and, you know, he goes out and raises money from hardworking class — hardworking people, small donors, and tells them, ‘This is to defend America,’” Mr. Barr said.

Among Mr. Trump’s expenses: paying his co-defendant in the classified documents case, Walt Nauta. Mr. Nauta continues to be employed by Mr. Trump, receiving payments both from the former president’s campaign and PAC totaling nearly $85,000 in the first six months of the year, according to the new financial filings.

Republican fund-raisers close to Mr. Trump dispute the notion that donors object to their money defraying his legal costs.

“I talk to Republican donors all day every day, and not one has called to express frustration that their money is being spent on legal bills,” said Caroline Wren, a Republican fund-raiser who works with candidates and groups aligned with Mr. Trump. “They are as disgusted with the political weaponization of the D.O.J. as millions of Americans and more than willing to stand and defend these folks with their dollars.”

The rush of small donations after Mr. Trump’s two indictments has largely obscured the fact that until he broke the news of his own potential pending arrest in mid-March, Mr. Trump had been suffering through one of the worst fund-raising periods since the end of his presidency.

In the second half of 2021 and all of 2022, when he was not actively running for president, Mr. Trump never had a day where he raised less than $100,000 online, besides Christmas, and even then he brought in $97,684.56.

Then, suddenly, in early 2023, it was happening regularly — nearly every other day in February 2023.

The first indictment changed all that. He took in $12.9 million online in seven days — more than he raised in the first 88 days of the year.

But while the second indictment caused a burst of donations, too — $5.45 million over seven days — it was less than half of what he brought in the first time.

Andrew Fischer and Christine Zhang contributed reporting.

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