Trump’s Save America PAC Pays Legal Fees for Mar-a-Lago Witnesses


Former President Donald Trump’s Political Action Committee Legal fees are being paid for some key witnesses involved in a Justice Department investigation into whether Trump mishandled classified documents, obstructed investigations or destroyed government records, according to people familiar with the matter.

The witnesses, who included Kash Patel, who testified before a grand jury and was a key figure in Trump’s defense, and Walter Nota, who may have been key to the prosecution, were among others who accepted the case, according to the people. The person interviewed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing criminal investigation, said Trump’s valet Notah told FBI agents that the former president directed him to remove Mar-a-Lago boxes despite government investigators Attempts are being made to retrieve classified documents at the private club and residence. matter.

Both Patel and Nauta are represented by Brand Woodward Law, which has been paid more than $120,000 by Trump’s Save America PAC, according to public records. The firm’s lead attorney, Stan Brand, said there was nothing inappropriate for PAC to pay legal fees for witnesses in the investigation. However, another lawyer not involved in the case said that could encourage witnesses to be uncooperative.

“There is no prohibition on third parties paying legal fees as long as it is disclosed to the client. Lawyers have a moral obligation to their clients,” Brand said. “It’s a storm in a teapot and yet another cheap attack on these people because of who they work for.”

But former U.S. Attorney Jim Walden said the payment arrangement raised concerns about whether reimbursement of attorneys’ fees would affect what witnesses said or did. He noted that if Justice Department officials have ethical concerns, they can ask judges to at least ask clients whether they are sure their interests are being protected.

“It looks like the Trump PAC is either paying for the silence of these witnesses, or for them to accept a fifth testimony, or for their favorable testimony,” Varden said. Suspicious, they have a judicial mechanism for the courts to oversee if there is a conflict.”

Other witnesses represented by Brand Woodward, whose legal documents Those paid by Trump’s political action committee include longtime Trump adviser Dan Scavino and at least one personal assistant who has testified before a grand jury, the people said.

“We do not comment on any vendor payments, and all expenditures by the group are publicly reported by law,” said Trump spokesman Steven Cheung.

Timeline of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents

Stephen Gillers, professor emeritus of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, said such arrangements are common in the corporate world and should only be of concern in certain circumstances.

“The problem arises when the people who pay the fees choose the lawyer and are interested in how the lawyer represents the client,” Gilles said.

He cited the case of former Trump White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson “becoming more cooperative” with a House select committee investigating the Jan. 1. On January 6, 2021, she attacked the U.S. Capitol after changing lawyers.

Gilles noted that the Justice Department can ask a judge to remove an attorney from a case if it has reason to believe that the attorney is not in the client’s interest.

Trump has been willing to let his PAC pay the bills for aides who are loyal to him or continue to work for him, People familiar with the matter said. The RNC has paid legal bills for Trump advisers in the past, including during the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and has racked up more than $1.5 million in legal bills for Trump since he left office.

The PAC is under federal investigation for its fundraising tactics surrounding bogus allegations that elections were stolen. Separately, federal investigators have issued subpoenas seeking details about the PAC’s formation and operations as part of the Justice Department’s probe into efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election. The subpoenas seek extensive information about how the PAC raised and spent funds, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump’s motive in Mar-a-Lago case seen as ego, not money

Trump wants to keep large sums of money in the PAC because there are no restrictions on how they can be spent, but he has been careful about spending them, frustrating fellow Republicans, a person familiar with the matter said.

Since 2021, the PAC has spent $9.7 million on legal bills, or about 14% of its spending during that period, according to a review of its filings by The Washington Post. That includes legal bills for separate investigations into Trump’s New York operations and his post-2020 election practices in Georgia, according to people familiar with the matter.

In New York, for example, a firm led by Philadelphia attorney Michael van der Veen received a $25,000 monthly guarantee from the President’s PAC to handle legal cases in New York, according to an agreement seen by The New York Post. According to the filing, PAC paid at least $369,000 to Van der Veen’s firm in 2022, and the company has billed PAC at least $230,000 since its last filing, according to documents seen by The Post.

Trump can afford to keep making more of these payments. His PAC, which has primarily raised money from small donors, had nearly $70 million on hand as of its most recent filing in late October.

Mar-a-Lago classified documents contain sensitive secrets on Iran, China

It is not uncommon for the same attorney or law firm to represent multiple witnesses in an investigation, As Brand Woodward did with its Mar-a-Lago investigation. One of their clients, Scavino, was represented by the firm until Trump left office.

Brand said there is little difference between the current situation and his past work on behalf of George Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. In this case, the government— not a political action committee When Stephanopoulos was subpoenaed by a congressional committee, he paid part of his representation.

Brand said that if the administration tried to block reimbursement for legal work by Trump’s political arm, it would be an unfair attempt to “compel the cooperation of witnesses by cutting off their ability to defend themselves.”

The Justice Department is investigating hundreds of classified documents Trump has held at Mar-a-Lago since he left office, including 103 documents left at the property after Trump and his legal team responded to a grand jury subpoena for the return of all such materials. files.

Some of the documents recovered by the FBI in court-sanctioned searches contained highly classified information, including on foreign nuclear capabilities, Chinese intelligence activities and Iranian missile systems, The Washington Post reported.

The Justice Department is also investigating attempts by Trump and his allies to reverse President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed a special counsel to oversee both investigations, citing Trump’s decision to run for president again in 2024 and Biden’s intention to seek re-election.

Prosecutors involved in each investigation have presented multiple witnesses to a grand jury in federal court in Washington.On Friday, two former Trump White House lawyers, Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin testified to a grand jury on election-related matters, and three other Trump aides, including Scavino, testified to a grand jury on Thursday about the Mar-a-Lago documents, according to people familiar with the matter. The testimony of the three aides was first reported by The New York Times.

When Patel was first brought before the grand jury in October, he cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a reason not to answer questions, according to people familiar with the matter. But after conferring with a federal judge, he was granted limited-use immunity and was brought back to the panel in November to answer questions.

Prosecutors are still seeking the cooperation of Nota, Trump’s valet, who continues to work for the former president even though he has emerged as a potentially key witness in the case.

When Nauta was first questioned by the FBI, he denied having any knowledge or knowledge of the sensitive Mar-a-Lago documents, people familiar with the matter said. When questioned a second time, however, the people said, his story changed significantly; he told investigators that he followed Trump’s order after a grand jury issued a subpoena to return any documents marked classified. Indicated that the box was moved.

Nauta is in a precarious legal position because it is unclear whether prosecutors will try to bring false statement charges against him or otherwise force him to cooperate against Trump.

Source link