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News / Nation & World

Review: Trump campaign spent $76.7M on legal fees over two years

Former president battling multiple lawsuits and dozens of felony charges in four criminal cases

By Richard Lardner and Aaron Kessler, Associated Press
Published: February 2, 2024, 7:12pm

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s storied business career is checkered by bankruptcies and blunders. His investment in Eli Bartov, a New York University accounting professor, looms as another failed venture.

Trump’s Save America political action committee paid Bartov nearly $930,000 last year as an expert witness in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud case that threatens the former president’s real estate empire, according to new Federal Election Commission filings.

Bartov bombed. New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron declared in December that the professor’s testimony proved only that “for a million or so dollars, some experts will say whatever you want them to say.”

An Associated Press analysis of new Federal Election Commission filings shows the payments to Bartov are among $54 million in legal expenditures made last year by Trump’s political fundraising machine. The spending came as Trump has been battling multiple lawsuits and dozens of felony charges in four criminal cases.

Save America accounted for the bulk of the payments, with 84 percent of the committee’s spending going toward legal costs.

Coupled with FEC data from 2022, AP’s review found that Save America, Trump’s presidential campaign and his other fundraising organizations have devoted $76.7 million to legal fees over the two years. The hefty sum underscores the legal jeopardy Trump faces as he marches toward securing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York who specializes in campaign finance regulation and government ethics, said that while the legal expenses are large, they’re unlikely to hamper Trump’s run for the White House.

“He seems to be able to raise a lot of money, so I wouldn’t really worry about the long-term impact on his campaign,” Briffault said.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has blasted the lengthy list of felony charges and lawsuits as partisan attempts to upend his presidential bid. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the legal spending.

Several of his most prominent lawyers have surpassed $5 million each in payments, all footed by the former president’s campaign donors, according to the FEC filings. Alina Habba, whose New Jersey-based law firm represented Trump in the sexual assault and defamation suit brought by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, has earned the most, $6 million.

Trump suffered a stinging loss in the Carroll case. Juries awarded her more than $88 million. And the criminal cases carry greater political and personal risk for him. Even as the former president drains his campaign coffers to pay for his personal attorney fees, he’s sought to transform the legal woes into an opportunity by portraying himself as the victim of a corrupt justice system.

Reporters and cameras often show up in large numbers when he makes a courtroom appearance, as he’s done in the Carroll and New York fraud cases, and he seizes the stage to pound the message that his political enemies are aiming to silence him and his supporters.

“It’s a terrible thing that’s happening here,” Trump told reporters in early November after exiting the courtroom where the New York fraud case was being held. “I think it’s a very sad day for America.”

Trump is battling two sets of federal charges over his retention of classified records at his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida and for his alleged role in seeking to undermine the 2020 election.

He faces state charges in Georgia that he illegally schemed to overturn the election in the state. And he has been charged by New York City prosecutors with making hush money payments during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep a sexual relationship from becoming public.

Chris Kise, who left the megafirm Foley & Lardner to be one of Trump’s attorneys, was paid $5.1 million in donor dollars over the last two years, according to the FEC filings. Kise and Habba have represented Trump in the New York fraud lawsuit, which could end up banning him from doing business in the state and requiring him to pay several hundred million dollars in penalties.

Continental PLLC, a Florida law firm that Kise joined after leaving Foley & Lardner, separately received $5.4 million in Trump donor money, according to the records.

Trump’s campaign paid Atlanta attorney Steven Sadow $1.5 million in the second half of 2023. Trump hired Sadow to represent him in the Georgia election-subversion case.

Campaign money was also used to pay attorneys who have represented co-defendants and potential witnesses in the Trump cases. Brand Woodward Law in Washington received $660,000, with the bulk of that money coming in 2023. One of the firm’s clients, Trump valet Walt Nauta, is accused to scheming to conceal Mar-a-Lago security camera footage from government investigators.

Bartov, the accounting professor, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Although he’s not an attorney, the almost $930,000 he received from Save America for legal consulting illustrates the benefits and risks of standing in Trump’s corner.

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He’d previously told an AP reporter that Engoron, the judge in the New York civil fraud case, had mischaracterized his testimony.

The New York attorney general’s case against Trump centers on his business financial statements. The attorney general’s office contends the former president fraudulently inflated the value of assets such as Trump Tower and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to secure loans and business deals.

But Bartov, hired for his expert perspective, testified in early December that he found no evidence of accounting fraud.

Engoron, the judge, sharply and publicly criticized Bartov in a decision he issued less than two weeks later. Engoron wrote that he’d previously ruled there were numerous and obvious errors in Trump’s financial statements.

“By doggedly attempting to justify every misstatement, Professor Bartov lost all credibility,” the judge wrote.