Donald Trump has reportedly spent years refusing to set up a legal defense fund because, he said, only guilty people have legal defense funds. But, just as he said that only guilty people and the Mob would ever plead the Fifth and then went on to plead the Fifth, now that he’s been charged with dozens of federal crimes, with more charges expected, here comes the legal defense fund. The Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc. will be led by Trump advisers and aides. It will supplement the more than $40 million one of his PACs, Save America, has already spent on legal fees so far in 2023.
That $40 million has covered Trump’s own prodigious legal bills as well as those of dozens of witnesses and co-defendants. But now Save America is running low on money—money mostly raised on lies about the 2020 election having been stolen—and has already had to ask another Trump PAC to return a $60 million contribution. Trump has also started directing more of the money from his campaign fundraising into the PAC. It now gets 10 cents out of every dollar the campaign raises. Enter the Patriot Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
The legal defense fund is intended to cover costs for the many, many Trump employees and advisers pulled into the investigations of his retention of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It is “not expected to cover Mr. Trump’s own legal bills,” The New York Times reports, but “not expected” does not mean “will never,” especially when we’re talking about Trump being faced with the prospect of paying his own giant legal bills. Usually he would just walk away from a bill he didn’t feel like paying, but he’s going to need those lawyers.
”Mr. Trump’s rivals have been using the Save America legal payments as an attack on him,” the Times reported. “And he appears to have recognized it as a potential weak point: On Saturday evening, at a rally in Erie, Pa., he said he would put whatever money he needs to put into his campaign, if it comes to that.” Yeah, sure he will. The odds of Trump putting significant money into his campaign are lower than the odds of him taking money from the legal defense fund that’s supposedly being set up for people other than him.
Given Trump’s views on loyalty and his general level of respect for the legal system, having most of the witnesses in the investigations into his conduct be represented by lawyers paid for by Trump-related entities raises questions. Prosecutors have been asking questions about those arrangements, The Washington Post reports.
“The problems arise when the person paying the fee chooses the lawyer and has an interest in how the lawyer represents the client,” Stephen Gillers, a professor emeritus of legal ethics at New York University’s law school, told the Post. We saw exactly that happen, Gillers pointed out, with former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, “who became a whole lot more cooperative” with the House Jan. 6 committee after she switched away from her Trump-funded lawyer.
Similarly, the person referred to as “Employee 4” in the superseding indictment in the classified documents case, whose name is reportedly Yuscil Taveras, was originally represented by the same lawyer who represents Trump co-defendant Walt Nauta. As long as Taveras was sticking to the official Trump narrative, that wasn’t a problem because he and Nauta had the same story. After Trump and Nauta were indicted, though, Taveras decided he had more to say. At that point, the Post reports, “a judge reviewed the issue, a person familiar with the matter said. A second lawyer—not paid by the PAC—was brought in to provide legal advice to Taveras, who then spoke to investigators, according to people familiar with the matter.”
But if someone’s legal representation is paid for by Team Trump until they’re saying something that will be inconvenient—a moment that becomes obvious when the Trump-paid lawyer can’t continue representing both that person and Trump’s co-defendants anymore—that can create pressure on employees and allies to stick to the official story. And nobody seriously believes Trump wouldn’t personally apply that pressure if he felt it benefited him to do so.
One final question is just how much money the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc. will actually be able to raise. Money originally poured into Save America as Trump denied the results of and fought to overturn the 2020 election. Trump’s fundraising remains high, but not as high as the legal bills he and his people are running up. Will small-dollar donors continue draining their own comparatively small bank accounts to pay for lawyers for Trump, Nauta, and others?
One thing’s for sure: Donald Trump isn’t going to pay a dollar more than he absolutely has to.