“$$$$$$:” Josh Dawsey Comes Full Circle on Trump’s Fundraising Corruption

I’m going to share something I’ve been laughing to myself about for months, since before I wrote this post on how the financial aspect of Jack Smith’s investigation would be a way to break through the otherwise formidable wall of lawyer-witnesses between investigators and Trump’s crimes.

There’s a reason why the fundraising aspect of Trump’s Big Lie has been accessible to investigators, even beyond the fact that there’s boatloads of financial evidence available with a subpoena. That’s because reporters, including Josh Dawsey, were able to track Trump’s fundraising in real time back in 2020, and when they saw what he was doing, they asked the Director of Communications for Trump’s campaign, Tim Murtaugh, about it.

Heck, Dawsey even wrote a story on December 1, 2020, over a month before the Big Lie led to an insurrection, reporting on this scam.

President Trump’s political operation has raised more than $170 million since Election Day, using a blizzard of misleading appeals about the election to shatter fundraising records set during the campaign, according to people with knowledge of the contributions.

The influx of political donations is one reason that Trump and some allies are inclined to continue a legal onslaught and public relations blitz focused on baseless claims of election fraud, even as their attempts have repeatedly failed in court and as key states continue to certify wins for President-elect Joe Biden.

Much of the money raised since the election is likely to go into an account for the president to use on political activities after he leaves office, while some of the contributions will go toward what is left of the legal fight.


The donations are purportedly being solicited for the Official Election Defense Fund, whose name is featured prominently atop the Trump campaign’s website.

There is no such account, however. The fundraising requests are being made by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising effort of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. As of Nov. 18, that committee also shares its funds with Save America, a new leadership PAC that Trump set up in early November and that he can use to fund his activities after the presidency.

Dawsey appears to have gotten no response from Murtaugh.

What happened with his inquiry instead — along with one Politico’s Maggie Severns sent on November 11 and a follow-up question CNN’s Jeremy Diamond sent on November 24 — is that Murtaugh, who could have no conceivable attorney client privilege, sent the query to Justin Clark, who otherwise would have attorney-client privilege, along with a bunch of other senior campaign officials, to ask whether they should “still ignore” press inquiries about the fundraising.

In the case of Dawsey’s email, they said things like this to each other:

On Nov 30, 2020, at 7:03 PM, Tim Murtaugh <[email protected]> wrote:

I side with no comment. He’s going to write about the split and if we say stuff about legal expenses it will serve to highlight the argument that the fundraising pitch is misleading.

From: Jason Miller <[email protected]> Sent: Monday, November 30, 2020 7:24 PM

To: Tim Murtaugh <[email protected]> Cc: Sean Dollman <[email protected]>; Justin Clark <[email protected]>; Bill Stepien <[email protected]>

Subject: Re: [EXTERNAL]$$$$$$

Fair points. Sean -what are the reporting deadlines for these respective entities -12/15? It will be tougher to dodge such answers after reporters can find it themselves.


Re: [EXTERNAL]$$$$$$

We should talk tomorrow about whether to just announce this by press release like we would any other fundraising announcement. If we have the numbers we can discuss how the breakdown among entities needs to be messaged. Also key, as Jason pointed out, that POTUS is on board with how it will be described. [my emphasis]

In response to Dawsey’s query back on November 30, 2020, Murtaugh, Clark, Jason Miller, CFO Sean Dollman, and Campaign Manager Bill Stepien exchanged emails recognizing that the fundraising pitch they were using was misleading, strategizing how they were going to continue to distract journalists from the misleading aspect of their pitches after they had to disclose their fundraising, and noting that they were going to ask Trump if he was comfortable with them fluffing journalists on how they were misleading small donors.

And Murtaugh, because he had no conceivable privilege in these exchanges, sent this exchange to the January 6 Committee and, I assume, to DOJ when they subpoenaed him.

That’s why I find it hilarious that Dawsey, in a report on a new set of subpoenas sent out in March that follow ones sent in December or November and September, wonders whether prosecutors will find the same kind of damning evidence that Trump’s campaign knew they were engaged in fraud as the Steve Bannon Build the Wall fraud did.

It’s unclear whether prosecutors will find similar kinds of evidence to support an indictment in this case.

I’m pretty sure they’ll find it, because that evidence has your name on it, Josh! One way Jack Smith will prove that Trump’s people knew they were lying to the rubes sending in their spare cash is by showing how panicked the campaign was when people like Dawsey started to ask about it.

WaPo suggests the subpoenas he describes disclose “the breadth of Smith’s investigation” and claims this prong of the investigation follows the release of the January 6 Committee Report.

The special counsel’s increased interest in fundraising follows the December release of the final report of the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack, which concluded that the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee’s joint fundraising operation brought in $250 million between the November election and Jan. 6, sending as many as 25 emails to supporters each day, many claiming that the election had been “rigged” or that Democrats had tried to steal the presidency and urging people to join the “Trump Army.” The Trump campaign sent several emails on Jan. 6 itself, including one declaring, “TODAY. This is our LAST CHANCE … The stakes have NEVER been higher. President Trump needs YOU to make a statement and publicly stand with him and FIGHT BACK.”

But not only have other outlets been reporting on it, CNN reported in December that this financial prong of the probe (which like NYT, they reported in September) had been going on, at that point, for a year, though the PAC prong of it may have post-dated the J6C presentation of this scam last June.

Another top prosecutor, JP Cooney, the former head of public corruption in the DC US Attorney’s Office, is overseeing a significant financial probe that Smith will take on. The probe includes examining the possible misuse of political contributions, according to some of the sources. The DC US Attorney’s Office, before the special counsel’s arrival, had examined potential financial crimes related to the January 6 riot, including possible money laundering and the support of rioters’ hotel stays and bus trips to Washington ahead of January 6.

In recent months, however, the financial investigation has sought information about Trump’s post-election Save America PAC and other funding of people who assisted Trump, according to subpoenas viewed by CNN. The financial investigation picked up steam as DOJ investigators enlisted cooperators months after the 2021 riot, one of the sources said.

That may be why Merrick Garland has been saying the investigation was following the money since October 2021, at which point the similar fraudulent fundraising investigation into Sidney Powell was reported by … the Washington Post.

The investigation into fundraising fraud is important by itself for the (outside) possibility it’ll lead Trump’s supporters to turn on him for cheating them. It could help to prove that Trump’s efforts to obstruct the vote certification on January 6 were “corrupt” by any definition of the term that the DC Circuit will ultimately adopt. But it likely also serves as a useful prosecutorial tool not just because it had a public-facing aspect that resulted in non-privileged conversations like the one above, but also because a goodly number of Trump people who weren’t implicated in the actual election theft were involved and cognizant of the financial fraud.

64 replies
  1. SaltinWound says:

    Do prosecutors need to show Trump’s efforts were corrupt if there was a documentary aspect?

    • emptywheel says:


      Three elements of the offense:
      1) Official proceeding (Everyone agrees January 6 was)
      2) Steps to obstruct it (Nichols was just reversed for claiming those steps had to involve documents)
      3) Corrupt purpose (DC Circuit still fighting over whether otherwise illegal or self-dealing are required)

  2. was_Alan K says:

    Following the money, good to hear. Does misrepresenting fundraising appeals amount to a crime? Or does it lead to payments to others who are committing crimes? Does it lead to the ex-POTUS?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Frequently involves wire and mail fraud, which are commonly prosecuted and carry heavy penalties.

      • AgainBrain says:

        Asking the lawyers: Does Garland assigning Trump campaign-and-related fraud issues to the Special Counsel outright enjoin the USPI (Postal Inspectors) from investigating or pursuing any law enforcement actions against Trump for mail fraud around similar claims? Or would USPI simply be required to first coordinate any potentially-related matters with Smith’s office before investigating/pursuing further?

  3. joel fisher says:

    It’s always seemed to me that this was the easiest case to prosecute: did you lie to people to get them to give you money? Did you know you were lying? Pretty close to shooting a guy on 5th Ave, etc…. However, it also it appears to me that I’m a simpleton as the JD has known the answers to these questions for more than 2 years and hasn’t lifted a finger. What more do they want than a multi-million dollar fraud committed in public?

    • Desidero says:

      IANAL, but i imagine Trump’s gang can still (feebly) claim the fundraising was well-intentioned, but the financial reports looked bad so they were just doing PR/damage control. It seems to never be slam dunk.
      Whether the JD knows part or all of the financial situation, and whether charging before other aspects of the crimes & charges is good strategy are prolly past our pay grades. Further charges Summer/Fall ’23 are quite fast enough for me.

      • joel fisher says:

        I think I remember that money was gushing in from tfg’s supporters beginning in 11/20. If he hasn’t been charged by now, it’s very problematic to ever do it before the 2024 election rears its ugly head.

    • PJB2point0 says:

      Is it possible that while everyone has been chasing reports SC is investigating seditious conspiracy or defrauding the US, the key to this case is as simple as plain old wire fraud? Just Steve Bannon – build a fake wall on a grand scale?

  4. A Better Mitch says:

    not trying to suggest Dawsey’s behavior comparable, but this immediately came to mind: Hang down your head Josh Dawsey, Hang down your head and cry, Hang down your head…

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ah, the journalistic perils of not reading your own newspaper, not providing adequate context for readers, needing to invent “breaking news,” and not having a memory half as good as Marcy Wheeler.

    • theartistvvv says:

      I can’t decide was it memory, or mercenary (if only in service of the then-instant article).

      In the event, he looks either stupid or …

  6. bawiggans says:

    Any use of money raised from his supporters that is not applied to returning him to the presidency is money well burned and serves to draw down what is not, after all, an inexhaustible supply of fuel for the fire. A bonfire of the vanities, indeed.

    • GSSH-FullyReduced says:

      Just my opinion but it’s one thing to pay your taxes and then be led to believe your hard earned money went to pay for welfare queens. It’s another to send your money to build a wall, or save America and then find out your money was actually spent on hotel rooms, banquets and booze for lobbyists and other urchins bottom feeding off the crime boss’s crumbs.
      “Following the money” may be really hard when shell game maestros plan ahead for the scheme, but may be a lot easier when preschoolers try to play in the same sandbox.

    • Buzzkill Stickinthemud says:

      I often wonder how much money from his small dollar supporters comes from social security disability, or some other government source. If I was a check-to-check supporter working for low pay, I’d be hard pressed to donate more than once (or at all).

      • joel fisher says:

        Here’s where I’m a complete hypocrite: while I want tfg charged for the fraud of stop the steal, I don’t really see any real victim. Nothing brings more joy to my heart than the thought of the pain inflicted on his scum supporters who don’t even recognize the theft as a loss.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Hence those deceptive emails where you had to *un*check the box that committed you to donating monthly, with this neither labeled nor explained.

        These folks were already frauding with the email lists (I got myself on one to observe their methods, so I saw this scam unfiltered and in real time).

  7. Clare Kelly says:

    That line:
    “It’s unclear whether prosecutors will find similar kinds of evidence to support an indictment in this case.”
    Initially struck me as gratuitous, baseless conjecture.

    Then I read the comment section on the piece and saw it had served as a crumb for hungry Individual-1 defenders.

    An aside: I subconsciously count the number and variations of “people familiar with the matter” references when I read his pieces, and noticed a new quantitative one:

    “The eight people with knowledge of the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation”

    Quite possibly only as angertainment, I’ve quoted the jist of ‘SPJ Code of Ethics: Anonymous Sources’ guidelines as a stand alone comment on his pieces and brought it up with Eugene Robinson in his Q & A’s. As a one time editor, Eugene found it troubling as well.

    At any rate, thanks again for your analysis, receipt toting, and the addition of Brandi Buchman.

    • David F. Snyder says:

      Similar noticings here. Yes, that “eight” really stuck out as a new feature. Of course, it could have been eight sources based in MaL – Trump would do that.

      • emptywheel says:

        My bet is it was 8 people who got subpoenas and related lawyers. Since this is not really new reporting, its primarily purpose serves to tell everyone else being investigated about the status of it.

  8. David F. Snyder says:

    Good to see that Josh may have a positive role to play in this, even if by accident. 😆

    I have to say it: I love Marcie’s capacity for and attention to detail, and her ability to keep that detail in context of the big picture. Very inspiring. Doesn’t she deserve a Pulitzer for this work?

  9. David Brower says:

    I don’t know about ever convincing the donors they’ve been cheated. Convincing a rube he’s been swindled is a lot harder than swindling him in the first place.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Senate Minority Leader, if you please.

      The Dems should be having serious heart-to-heart conversations with DiFi, too. But I wouldn’t trust them to ConservaDems or any of the Dems’s octogenarian members, who are likely to tell her to hang in there, kid.

      Her absence, and that of other elder statesmen (Fetterman’s is temporary), is hampering the Senate’s work. That includes promptly voting on Biden’s judicial nominees, one of which should be for the Fifth Circuit (although he mysteriously seems not to have made one for a long empty seat).

      • Matt___B says:

        Is Chris Murphy a “ConservaDem”? He seems to be a leader for gun control issues but just this morning on MSNBC expressed his disdain for Ro Khanna calling for DiFi’s resignation. He framed it in terms of that call being somehow sexist because nobody is calling for resignations of males in similar positions (Fetterman comes to mind, though he is new to the senate).

        • PJB2point0 says:

          What, if anything real, can the Senate Judiciary Committee do about this Justice Thomas situation? Today’s reporting is about an undisclosed real estate deal between Thomas and Harlan Crow. If there is something they could do, has Sen. Feinstein’s absence hamstring Durbin in an 11-10 committee?

        • vicks says:

          To the best of my knowledge, there are reasonable ways to replace Ms. Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee.
          There. Problem solved.
          Let the nasty accusations and implications reflect on the assholes making them.

        • Matt___B says:

          Even so, will require 60 votes (filibuster rules apply) or unanimous voice vote. Not as easy as saying “Hey you, Senator X, take Dianne’s place”.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          She doesn’t want to be replaced. She wants a temporary stand-in, a very different arrangement.

        • Rayne says:

          Let’s not conflate depression for which Sen. Fetterman and other members of Congress have been treated with cognitive deficits due to age-related disorders since there is no reversing or stabilizing aging. DiFi at age 89 is definitely past her twilight and will likely not improve with considerable therapy.

          Calling out DiFi is problematic because there are several men in the Senate who are alleged to suffer from age-related cognitive challenges.

        • Matt___B says:

          Fair point about depression. I can’t imagine having a bad case of shingles AND experiencing cognitive decline. My mother had 4 years of decline to dementia – first year was semi-amusing, 2nd year was “we can deal with this”, 3rd year was “this is hard” and 4th year was OMG.

          Murphy (and now I hear Pelosi also) making the sexist argument is a way of deflecting and not addressing the issue head-on, even though that issue is germane as well.

          Who d’ya have in mind among serving senators here – Grassley? I can’t recall whether Robert Byrd and/or Strom Thurmond missed as much time as DiFi during their final 2 years in the Senate…

        • AgainBrain says:

          “Murphy making the sexist argument is a way of deflecting…”

          Sorry, but that’s BS. I find it **extremely sexist** to call out DiFi and coach this as a discussion about her responsibility, while remaining silent on the many elder male Senators in similar situations. The issue is NOT confined to DiFi and should either be a broader party discussion including the male Dem senators of age, or not happen AT ALL.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Indeed. It can be excruciating. My point was that she appears to have other long-term debilitating ailments. The focus on this one implies that they are short-term and curable.

          As with RBG’s retirement, timing can be crucial. And, yes, there are serious problems with other Democratic Senators, and several Republican ones, and there is apparently no formal or informal process to deal with them beyond comity and good will.

        • Robert_S says:

          There are surely several Democratic senators who are past their cognitive prime. Diane Feinstein is the only one who’s holding up Judicial appointments.

          Her absence is a gift to McConnell’s long term plan to stack the judiciary with hacks and radicals.

          There is no way that the Republicans will allow a replacement. The best case scenario is that the Dems can strike some sort of deal related to the exit of both Feinstein and McConnell.

  10. Rapier says:

    “I’m pretty sure they’ll find it, because that evidence has your name on it, Josh!”

    I wish I could pay a fair price for admission here but this is priceless.

    Thank you, from beautiful W MI.

  11. surfer2099 says:


    @Marcy: I just heard on MSNBC a recording of Bartiromo and a Trump campaign official discussing the duplicate set of electors a month before Jan 6th.

    Is there any possibility of members of Fox News or the institution itself have any legal exposure with the J6 prosecutions? And if so, what?

  12. Rugger_9 says:

    Speaking of fundraising: It seems Mr. Crow bought a set of properties from SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas for 133 k$ which was not reported. Nothing yet that I have seen on whether this was an inflated price, but since the law requires disclosures of property transactions above $1,000 this is as clear-cut a violation as one can get. Links to the deed and other key docs at the LGM link below.

    It does make me ask the question: can a SCOTUS justice be jailed? However, to remove Thomas from the court would require impeachment (not happening in a GOP controlled House) and removal (not getting 2/3 in a 51-49 Senate) which means Thomas could still issue rulings from jail, I think.


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The original reporting for that story came from ProPublica. The failure to comply with the letter of the law, let alone its spirit, is flaming. But so far, I see no evidence of criminal conduct.

      A successful impeachment would require massive wins for the Democrats in the House and Senate, and the enfeeblement of its outliers (e.g., Manchin, Sinema) and ConservaDems. Improbable. It’s only slightly more likely that Dems achieve working majorities in both houses such that they could reform the jurisdiction of the federal courts (require national injunctions to be heard in the DC Circuit), and impose ethics requirements on the Supremes. Enlarging the Court would require even stronger majorities.


  13. Merigriota says:

    Bill Stepien went on to work on Harriet Hageman’s campaign against Liz Cheney, and while I can’t recall a specific instance of them using the Big Lie to fundraise (Wyoming, wooo!), if they didn’t do so I’ll eat everyone’s hats.

    I definitely did a double-take hearing him admit to knowing it was bullshit during the J6 hearings.

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