The $40 Million, Er, the Unlimited Slush Fund Man

Something weird happened in the last few days.

On Sunday, Trump whisperer Josh Dawsey scooped that campaign finance filings that would be submitted yesterday would show that Trump’s PAC, Save America, had spent more than $40M on legal fees in the first half of 2023.

Save America, the former president’s PAC, is expected to disclose about $40.2 million in legal spending in a filing expected Monday, said the people familiar with the filing, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been made public.

That total is more than any other expense the PAC has incurred during Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and, according to federal filings from earlier this month, more than Trump’s campaign raised in the second quarter of 2023.It will bring the PAC’s post-presidential legal spending to about $56 million, as Trump faces a federal indictment in Florida, state charges in New York, and the prospect of additional criminal indictments in Washington and Fulton County, Ga.

Shortly after, Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman matched that scoop and added another, that Trump had gotten a $60M “refund” from his own SuperPAC.

The political action committee that former President Donald J. Trump is using to pay his legal bills faced such staggering costs this year that it requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to another group supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.


But the refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.

The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.

That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees.

Dawsey’s version explained to readers that Save America’s fundraising was part of Jack Smith’s criminal investigation.

The PAC’s own fundraising and creation is under investigation, The Post has reported, though the group has not been accused of wrongdoing. Much of the money it is using to pay for legal bills was raised on false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Maggie’s version laid out that Trump had raised the money by promising that he’d spend it to address alleged voter fraud, without disclosing that those false claims may be a crime, much less state clearly that the claims were false.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought small-dollar donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

And then yesterday’s disclosures came out and, per the Daily Beast, the key claim, that Trump had spent over $40M of his PAC’s funds on legal fees, was wrong. It was exactly half that.

Early news reports of former President Donald Trump’s astronomical $40.2 million in legal expenses now appear to have been off by about $20.1 million, or exactly half, according to a new Federal Election Commission filing.

Perhaps more notable, however, is the financial state of his former flagship leadership PAC, “Save America,” which covered those fees. Once a fundraising juggernaut, Save America ended June with just $3.7 million in the bank—a $100 million drop from its $103 million stash just one year ago—as the legal threats are only increasing in scope and severity.

The highly anticipated filing shows about $20.1 million in legal costs, with another roughly $1.5 million in additional legal reimbursements.

The early news reports—sourced from “people familiar with the filing”—and the disclosure itself don’t provide enough data to show where the error lay. However, the seemingly neat halfway split could suggest an accounting mistake—or, alternatively, possibly unreliable or intentionally misleading sourcing. Those fees do appear to extend to an array of law firms—indicating financial support for a long list of possible witnesses in several cases—as well as to Trump’s own stable of attorneys.

The more interesting detail — involving the campaign of a guy whose corporate person was convicted of tax fraud last year and goes on trial for civil fraud in October — is that he between all of Trump’s committees, he had to correct a bunch of past reports.

Trump’s full operation also filed more than two dozen corrected reports across several committees on Monday, going back as far as January 2021.

The former President should have more reliable accounting than George Santos.

Meanwhile, the incorrect reporting from Sunday — which alerted MAGAts and rich Republicans who believe they’re stuck with Trump that his burn rate on legal fees is eating up any campaign funds — came days after Trump rolled out a legal defense fund. As Sollenberger notes, as a 527, it will allow for a whole bunch of slush. Campaign manager Susie Wiles, who is (at least) a witness in the stolen documents case and also in the thick of the alleged illegal use of PAC funds has a role in managing the fund.

And yet experts said the shadiest, most notable part of the legal defense fund was not that it would pay for lawyers for potential witnesses against Trump. That part isn’t all that new. The Trump team reportedly worked hand-in-hand with CPAC chair Matt Schlapp’s “First Amendment Fund” earlier this year to provide legal help to Jan. 6 committee subpoena targets, and Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC also bankrolled handpicked attorneys for Jan. 6 witnesses.

Instead, experts pointed to the group’s unique tax status opening an array of new fundraising opportunities for Trump as the most unsettling element—including for unlimited donations from individuals and corporations.

I can’t help but remember that DOJ shut down the investigation into the suspected $10 million donation in September 2016 from an Egyptian bank that was key to Trump remaining in the case.

Someone with knowledge of Trump’s filings preempted bad news about his terrible burn rate — but did so inaccurately (and in a way that has yet to be corrected, or explained). But it happened at a time when Trump is planning on using his criminal exposure to launch an entirely new kind of fundraising.

Trump’s campaign finance looks a lot like his corporate finance. And his criminal exposure is now part of what he’s selling.

40 replies
  1. LizzyMom says:

    My first thought with the “$40M, oops, no, wait, only $20M, haha” was that this was intentional… A tactic to make the $20M (still a large amount) look relatively “harmless.”

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    So, perhaps the much higher figure was a PR stunt, to raise more money from the rubes? Or was the SAP’s “running out of money” part of an attempt to launder it into Trump’s personal holdings, then play beggar… to raise yet more money?

    Trump’s PAC “sought” that $60 million refund. Does the reporting now say it was made?

    It seems likely that the same people control these various PACs. If so, one could be forgiven for thinking that one PAC’s running out of money would not be a surprise, but a planned event.

    • Inwoods says:

      The PR angle is interesting. Anecdotal, but had breakfast with a MAGA retiree recently and they are convinced all these lawsuits are just trying to bleed him dry, and also that the government is “wasting” similar amounts. A big number signals Trump needs help, but also perhaps that the government is getting desperate or something? Difficult for me to grasp.

  3. RipNoLonger says:

    I’m guessing the recipients of trump’s legal/lobbying/advertising fees are also part of the same RW cabal that feeds back into these funds. Sure, many of these types are just grifters like the boss, but they’re willing to have that money from donors and low-level donations pass through their pockets.

    I’m not sure it’s actual money laundering, but I’m not sure it isn’t.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I imagine Jack Smith is looking at whether Trump is involved in money laundering or other financial crimes and not just George Santos-level bad accounting.

      As others have noted, the obscene rules regarding IRS section 527 entities, the kind Trump formed for his legal defense fund, allow donors to give and the fund to accept unlimited amounts of money – without disclosing who the donors are. If you were writing laws to enable money laundering and foster corruption, it would be hard to write better rules than that. Funny what passes for free speech in this country nowadays.

      Even so, Trump is badly bending the rules, because 527s are meant to further political and campaign activities, not to spend money to keep a candidate and his employee/witnesses out of prison. It will be interesting to see whether investigators conclude Trump bent them too far, and, if so, what the remedies are. Whoever thought this one up – it’s unlikely to have been Trump or his normal lawyers – is one vicious MF.

  4. oldtulsadude says:

    Sounds like Trump adding non-existent floors to his buildings when touting them; the bigger the number the more victim he appears to his cult members.

  5. IainUlysses says:

    I was expecting millions, and I know one retainer for the appellate lawyer (Corcoran?) was 3 million, but doesn’t 21 million or so seem a bit high? Even assuming everyone wants to be paid in advance, which would only make sense with Trump.

    • Fraud Guy says:

      Based on the laywers we have seen represent Trump in cases so far…how could they be worth $20 million in fees? Isn’t that like white-shoe BK lawyer level money?

    • Operandi says:

      The Daily Beast article excerpted in the post makes clear it’s not just for Trump’s own ever-rotating stable of lawyers, but those expenditures also include lawyers for his growing list of co-conspirators he wants to keep firmly under his thumb.

      Those fees do appear to extend to an array of law firms—indicating financial support for a long list of possible witnesses in several cases—as well as to Trump’s own stable of attorneys.

  6. strawberybanke says:

    I know I’m not adding anything, but it really is staggering how much money the Trumps have managed to accumulate over the past eight or nine years. From their DC hotel overcharging the Inaugural Ball Committee (and making it the only place to stay for those hoping for influence), to overcharging Secret Service for rooms, to demanding that officials visiting UK stay at their properties there, the incessant golfing and associated costs…. A lot hark back to the methods documented in the deep NYT investigation into the Trump Organizations shell games to rip off the government in their early housing projects. Biden crime family, indeed.

  7. Rugger_9 says:

    Unless this involves pixie dust or crypto currency / NFTs, this is real $$$ not spent on supporting GOP candidates (apparently several key state-level party committees are near bankrupt). Defendant-1 will not need it for campaigning as long as the RWNM does it for him for free like 2016. Using that prism, the more the merrier in political terms.

    In campaign finance terms, it’s pretty close to fraud and FWIW I’m also seeing unverified reports that the donors are pulling back for that reason. Would someone who feels ripped off be able to sue? Would this potentially constitute federal wire fraud since state lines were undoubtedly crossed in moving money around?

  8. thisoldhaus says:

    Off topic, but I see the Detroit News is reporting that Matt DePerno and a former state rep have been charged in Oakland County in the tabulator probe.

  9. Carolannie says:

    Trump’s PACs are all Go Fund Me sites

    [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

  10. Savage Librarian says:

    For some reason, whenever I think about the $10M donation from an Egyptian bank that kept Trump in the race, I associate it with Turkey, Halkbank, and Dubai. That may be enitirely off base. But, anyway, just to refresh memories there is the article below. Coincidentally, Susie Wiles was a partner at Ballard then.

    “Turkish Bank Tied to Giuliani Client Indicted on Iran Sanctions Bust” – Adam Klasfeld, October 15, 2019
    “Citing Foreign Agents Registration Act records, the watchdog Open Secrets noted that Halkbank, a Turkish government-owned institution, paid more than $2 million to Ballard Partners, a top political fundraiser to the Trump campaign, to lobby the State Department and other U.S. government entities.”

  11. rosalind says:

    (for rayne: did you send an email to me & other wheelies today? i wasn’t quite sure if it was really from you, and want to check)

    [Yes, it was me. You’ll note I copied Marcy if you need further validation. :-) /~Rayne]

  12. scroogemcduck says:

    There is no shortage of marks willing to donate to the legal defense fund of this “billionaire”.

  13. Gatorbaiter says:

    It is being reported that the Grand Jury foreman was in the magistrate’s courtroom and now indictments have been issued to unnamed individual/individuals.

      • Gatorbaiter says:

        “Unfortunately” at the time I posted this, that was the only information available. It was posted so fellow wheelers could tune in to catch it as it broke.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump plans to “save himself” by throwing Giuliani and Eastman under the bus, if he’s indicted for January 6th events. LOL. The move will surprise no one, but it’s a good indicator a) it was always the plan; b) his current legal advisers are no better; and c) Trump never listens to his lawyers, because he’s always the smartest guy in the room [sic]. Don’t imagine that strategery will make it easier to find and pay for the more better lawyers he needs now.

  15. WilliamOckham says:

    I’ll go with “somebody included the subtotals and the individual amounts when they summed that column in Excel”.

    • Fran of the North says:

      I think that sounds like a perfect category in Jeopardy!

      “I’ll take ‘Somebody Included subtotals and individual amounts when they summed the column’ for 100, Mayim”

  16. HardyWeinberg3 says:

    So if he only spent $20m on legal fees instead of $40m, did he still spend $40m total and hasn’t yet said what the other $20m of that was for?

  17. MsJennyMD says:

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
    ― Voltaire

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