President Donald Trump has used tens of millions of dollars in donations for personal legal expenses, a new report from The New York Times outlines. The total is, specifically, at least $58.4 million, and the money has covered legal work in cases ranging from fights over nondisclosure agreements to personal defenses for various people in Trump’s orbit amidst crises like the Russia and Ukraine scandals. The spending goes back to 2015, the year when Trump launched his eventually successful bid for the presidency, and the money has come from sources like a special fund created at the Republican National Committee (RNC) after Congress greatly increased the amount that individual donors were allowed to give to political parties without also spelling out many specifics as to how that money should be used.
During a roughly equivalent period starting in 2007, the year before he was first elected president, Barack Obama and his eventual campaign partners at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) spent $10.7 million on legal fees, which is a fraction of the recent Republican total. Campaign payments for many legal fees are, technically, legal, but the recent spending seems to represent clear conflicts of interest in an area in which Trump has turned routine political work into an opportunity for personal enrichment.
Matthew Sanderson, who’s worked as a campaign finance lawyer for Republican presidential candidates in the past, noted to the Times that “[vindicating] President Trump’s personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party they are one and the same.”
The Jones Day law firm, for instance, has received $18.8 million in donation-based cash from the Republicans, some $11.5 million of which came directly from Trump’s campaign. The firm has handled cases like an allegation from anti-Trump protesters who say that they were physically attacked at a rally in Kentucky. In some cases, it’s unclear what large payments have even been for — lawyer Daniel Hagood, for instance, has received $254,331 this year alone from America First Action, which is a Trump-affiliated super PAC. Nobody involved in the arrangement “would answer questions about the work he was doing,” the Times says.
Other big chunks of spending have gone to the lawyers who represented Trump during the impeachment proceedings. Jay Sekulow, Marc E. Kasowitz, Jane Raskin, and Alan Dershowitz and their respective firms have been paid some $2 million since 2018. Lawyer John Phillips, who is representing ex-Trump aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman (who appeared on The Apprentice before eventually working in the Trump White House) observed:
‘It is the weaponization of lawsuits that are frivolous. And they are intended to suppress First Amendment speech. No other president in this history of the United States has ever resorted to anything like this.’
Robert Weissman, who serves as the president of the government watchdog group Public Citizen, called the situation an “astounding nexus of corruption.” Besides the Trump campaign funds, Trump has also repeatedly relied on government lawyers to defend him in cases in which he has a decidedly personal interest, like over his tax returns. It’s one of the numerous ways in which Trump has reaped personal benefits from his presidency at the expense of the American people.