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Donald Trump's political machine has helped foot the bill for the legal expenses of more than a dozen people swept up in his criminal investigations, dolling out millions of dollars that could otherwise go toward his 2024 presidential bid.
"Trump's campaign machine is bleeding cash for legal expenses," Reuters reports. From interviews and a review of court records and campaign finance reports, Reuters has identified 13 potential witnesses or co-defendants who were represented by law firms that received payments from Trump's Save America super PAC. Those payments were disclosed in the finance reports as general payments to entities rather than specific compensation to individuals.
Those firms, which include Brand Woodward, Dhillon Law Group and Greenberg Traurig, raked in more than $2.1 million in the first six months of this year in payments from Save America. The funds comprise a significant portion of the more than $21 million the political action committee's disclosures to the Federal Election Commission indicate it spent on legal expenses during that period, an amount that could increase if the committee continues to fork over money for legal fees likely to mount in the coming year.
For four of the people Reuters identified — Trump aides Jason Miller, Margo Martin and Dan Scavino, and Trump Organization employee Matt Calamari Jr. — sources familiar with their circumstances confirmed to the publication that Save America did foot the bill for, at least, a portion of their legal fees.
Another source identified Mar-a-Lago IT worker Yuscil Taveras as the unnamed computer specialist whose legal fees federal prosecutors said in an August court filing were paid by the committee. The law firm for attorney Stanley Woodward, who Taveras dropped as his representation after being informed of Woodward's potential conflicts of interest, received more than $200,000 from Save America in March and denied in a court filing that anyone attempted to influence the witness' testimony.
Eight other people — Trump employees Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, who are co-defendants in his federal classified documents case; Trump's current and former aides Michael Roman, Boris Epshteyn and Taylor Budowich; and former Trump administration officials William Russell, Kash Patel and Brian Jack — were also represented by law firms that received money from Save America, according to Reuters' sources, court filings, campaign finance disclosures and their own public statements. Roman, who was indicted alongside Trump and 17 others in Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Fani Willis' sprawling racketeering indictment, is also appealing to the public for donations to pay his legal fees to the Dhillon Law Group.
Some legal experts say that campaign finance rules seem to permit Save America's spending on legal expenses related to Trump because its registered as a "leadership committee," which has few limitations to its spending. Others note, however, that prosecutors may examine the payments for any signs of potential efforts to influence witness testimony.
Experts also told Reuters that Trump's defense across his four ongoing criminal cases could cost him over $50 million, a sum greater than all the money raised in the first half of this year by his campaign and its top super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc. Stephen Gillers, an NYU law professor, even predicted that the former president's legal fees could surpass $100 million.
Reuters was unable to confirm the exact amounts of money Save America allocated to Trump's own legal counsel compared to that for witnesses and co-defendants. The outlet also could not confirm if other Trump associates beyond the 13 it identified had received support from the super PAC for legal fees.
Save America's spending on Trump's legal battles could hurt his standing with some voters, according to an August Reuters/Ipsos poll that found that, while 60% thought it fine, 40% of Republicans believed it inappropriate for the former president to divert campaign donations to his legal fees.
As its legal expenses ramped up earlier this year, Save America made back about $12 million of the roughly $60 million it had transferred to MAGA Inc, which Save America's financial disclosures with the FEC show has focused much of its spending on pro-Trump television ads.
Jason Osborne, a 2016 Trump campaign adviser, told the outlet that the legal expenses could push Trump to turn to other allied groups like the Republican Party to take care of costs related to his White House bid.
"This is going to have an impact," Osborne said.
Meanwhile, Trump has also raised millions of dollars off his legal battles by selling T-shirts and coffee mugs with his mug shot on them. In July, after Save America submitted its financial reports to the FEC, campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said the PAC was helping former Trump workers avoid "financial ruin." When asked about his legal spending's impact on his campaign, Trump told a SiriusXM podcast earlier this month: "Fortunately, I have a lot more money."