Trump Team Creates Legal-Defense Fund to Cover His Allies’ Bills

Former President Donald J. Trump’s team is creating a legal-defense fund to handle some of the crush of legal bills stemming from the investigations and criminal indictments involving him and a number of employees and associates, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The fund, which is expected to be called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc., will be led by Michael Glassner, a longtime Trump political adviser, according to the people familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. Another Trump aide who worked at the Trump Organization and then in Mr. Trump’s administration, Lynne Patton, will also be involved, the people said.

It is unclear how broad a group of people the legal-defense fund will cover, but one person said it was not expected to cover Mr. Trump’s own legal bills. In recent months Mr. Trump’s political action committee has paid legal bills for him and several witnesses, spending over $40 million on lawyers in the first half of 2023.

But a wide swath of people have become entangled in the various Trump-related criminal investigations, both as witnesses — of which there are many who work for Mr. Trump personally or did in the White House — as well as defendants.

A spokesman for Mr. Trump, Steven Cheung, said that the Justice Department had “targeted innocent Americans associated with President Trump,” and that “to combat these heinous actions” and “protect these innocent people from financial ruin and prevent their lives from being completely destroyed, a new legal defense fund will help pay for their legal fees to ensure they have representation against unlawful harassment.”

Mr. Trump’s PAC, Save America, has been a focus of one of the investigations by the special counsel Jack Smith, who has had at least two grand juries looking at Mr. Trump and his allies and advisers. Mr. Smith’s team has questioned why some lawyers for specific witnesses are being paid, as well as whether aides to Mr. Trump and Republicans knew Mr. Trump had lost the election but continued to raise money off his debunked claims.

The creation of the legal-defense fund could ease some of the financial pressure on Save America, which was severe enough that it requested a refund of the $60 million it had transferred to a pro-Trump super PAC late last year.

Michael Glassner, a longtime Trump political adviser, will lead what is expected to be called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc.Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Mr. Trump now has two co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, in the federal investigation into his retention of reams of presidential material and classified documents after he left office. Both men work for Mr. Trump; Mr. Nauta works for the Trump campaign, and Mr. De Oliveira is the property manager at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club.

Last month, Mr. Trump appeared at a fund-raiser at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for a group that assists those arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot and their families. “I’m going to make a contribution,” Mr. Trump told them, according to a video of his remarks. That group’s name, the Patriot Freedom Project, echoes the new name of Mr. Trump’s legal fund.

Mr. Trump had long resisted such an entity. For years, he told people that only guilty people have legal-defense funds.

Mr. Trump, a wealthy businessman, has been using money parked in Save America to pay legal bills for himself and a number of witnesses in the four criminal investigations into his actions in and out of office. Save America was created to house the more than $100 million that Mr. Trump raised shortly after the November 2020 election, as he claimed he needed his supporters’ help to combat widespread voter fraud.

No such widespread fraud was ever proved, but Mr. Trump had tens of millions of dollars at his disposal. He cannot spend the money directly on his 2024 presidential candidacy, but has been using it for legal bills. Last year, he made the $60 million transfer to the super PAC that is backing him, well before the refund request was made.

In 2021 and 2022, Save America paid for Mr. Trump’s political operation while he was out of office and not an official candidate, paying for staff members and rallies. It also picked up $16 million in legal fees.

Mr. Trump’s rivals have been using the Save America legal payments as an attack on him. And he appears to have recognized it as a potential weak point: On Saturday evening, at a rally in Erie, Pa., he said he would put whatever money he needs to put into his campaign, if it comes to that.

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