What Is Trump Buying With Millions In Legal Fees For His Associates?
INSIDE: Aileen Cannon ... Jack Smith ... Ron DeSantis
A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo.
A Political Travesty
Donald Trump’s various campaign committees spent in the vicinity of $50 million on legal fees in 2023 as he and his associates mounted criminal defenses to indictments in four different jurisdictions.
Before you ask: Yes, this is perfectly legal. For a mafia don.
But it should be, in a normal world at least, a political travesty. A deal killer. A campaign ender. A blight from which no presidential contender should be able to recover.
Instead, everything just cruises right along, with Trump having already essentially secured the GOP nomination and Republican elected officials who should know better falling right in line behind him.
A few caveats and cautions:
Not all of the legal fees went to criminal defense attorneys, but the vast majority of it did. Legal fees are usually a nominal share of campaign committees’ expenditures. In Trump’s case, it was one-quarter of what his committees took in in 2023.
It’s not straightforward to track which monies went to which defendants or witnesses. You have to cross reference the law firms (47+!) identified as recipients in the filings with the lawyers who work there and then back your way into which defendant or witness they represent.
It’s often not easy to track the spending among and transfers between his various committees. So this is not an exact science. These expenditures are ongoing and will continue through 2024, probably at a greater pace than they did in 2023.
Trump using campaign funds to defend himself is one thing, but it’s the use of those dollars to provide criminal defenses to co-defendants, witnesses, and other associates that pushes the political envelope in ways we’ve never really seen before. He’s buying loyalty. He’s paying for adherence to the defense strategy his lawyers are mapping out for him. He’s circling the wagons to protect himself at the expense of others and of the public good. And he’s doing it at the same time he’s running for president again.
Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Mark Meadows aide, is the most vivid example of the price to be paid for being part of the Trump’s legal defense circle. Her testimony to the Jan. 6 committee was limited and incomplete until she ditched her Trump-bought lawyer for independent representation and then told the committee her whole story. Bombshell.
But Hutchinson’s not the only one. Yuscil Taveras, an IT worker at Mar-a-Lago, gave false testimony to the grand jury investigating Trump’s unlawful retention of classified documents when he was represented by a Trump-paid lawyer, but then recanted after a judge appointed independent counsel to represent him.
In truth, Trump-paid lawyers are ethically bound to remain independent and represent only their client’s interest. But in practice, things get murky and gray. Very gray. Ask yourself this: Would the notoriously cheap deadbeat Donald Trump be squandering millions of dollars on legal fees for other people without the expectation that he himself would get something out of it?
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon held a three-hour ex parte hearing with Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team yesterday in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. This is a normal procedure in a CIPA classified documents case so that the government can justify to the judge withholding classified discovery from the defense or modifying it to protect sensitive information, but Cannon had resisted and delayed it for months. I’m not sure we’ll know how it went unless she makes egregious decisions coming out of the hearing that Smith is forced to appeal (and, yes, he can appeal that).
DC Preps Security For Trump Trial
While the DC Circuit takes its own sweet time on Trump’s immunity appeal, all but guaranteeing the trial will be pushed back from its March date, officials in the capital are conferring over what security measures will be needed around the federal courthouse during the trial.
California Senate Fundraising Totals
FEC reports are in for Q4, and the contributions to the main candidates for Senate in California stack up like this:
Rep. Adam Schiff (D): $6.2 million
Rep. Katie Porter (D): $3 million
Rep. Barbara Lee (D): $1.05 million
Steve Garvey (R): $610,920
Arizona Senate Fundraising Totals
Same drill in Arizona for Q4 contributions:
Rep. Reuben Gallego (D): $3.3 million
Kari Lake (R): $1.02 million
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I): $595,000
New Jersey Senate Fundraising Totals
Zeroing in on the Democratic primary, the Q4 contribution totals are:
First lady Tammy Murphy (D): $3.2 million
Rep. Andy Kim (D): $1.8 million
SC GOP primary: Trump 58%, Haley 32% among potential GOP primary voters in South Carolina, according to a new WaPo-Monmouth University poll.
Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll: “The poll found that 53% of voters in the seven closely watched battleground states would be unwilling to vote for Trump in the general election if he were found guilty of a crime, a figure that grows to 55% if he’s sentenced to prison.”
AJC: “The Fair Fight political and advocacy organization that Stacey Abrams founded is laying off staffers and narrowing its mission as it struggles with mounting debt from lengthy court battles over voting rights that racked up massive legal bills.”
House Overwhelmingly Passes Election-Year Tax Cut
By a 357-70 margin, the House last night passed a $78 billion tax cut bill. But the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) inexplicably explains why: “I think passing a tax bill that makes the president look good, may allow checks before the election — means that [Joe Biden] could be reelected and then we won’t extend the 2017 tax bill.”
Disney Loses First Round To DeSantis
A Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida has thrown out Disney’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) alleging it was retaliated against in violation of its First Amendment rights for opposing the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The judge ruled that Disney had failed to establish standing or jurisdiction. Disney says it will appeal the decision.
[Sponsored] An Inside Story Of The Democratic Party At A Moment Of Great Peril
The Truce, from journalists Hunter Walker (of Talking Points Memo) and Luppe B. Luppen, explores the major fault lines that define Democratic politics today and asks big questions about the future of the party. An engrossing page-turner, The Truce grapples with the dangers that threaten American democracy and the complicated cast of characters who are trying to save it.
Texas Keeps Texas’ing
The latest news and commentary:
Texas Tribune: Texas’ standoff with the feds in Eagle Pass is igniting calls for secession and fears of violence
Joyce Vance: Texas Ignores the Constitution and the Rule of Law
Steve Vladeck: The Biden-Abbott Border War Is a Mess, but It Is Not a Constitutional Crisis
Difficult To Read
The NYT compiles the eyewitness accounts of Alabama’s execution of Kenneth Smith last week using a never-before-tired nitrogen gas technique.
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