Trump Save America PAC's legal spending skyrockets to $3.9M in August as probes intensify

As Donald Trump worked to mount a legal defense to an unprecedented federal search of his Mar-a-Lago estate, one of a litany of escalating investigations with the former president at the center, his political action committee’s bills for legal consulting skyrocketed.

Save America spent $3.9 million on legal consulting in August most of which went to a West Palm Beach, Florida, law firm, according to paperwork filed Tuesday night with the Federal Election Commission. The legal fees made up the majority of the $6.5 million the PAC spent last month.

The number far exceeds the $964,000 Save America paid to 13 firms for legal consulting in July and the $555,000 the PAC spent on legal consulting in June, at the height of the House’s committee hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The information filed with the FEC does not specify that the law firms worked on any particular cases, and do not describe anything beyond "legal consulting." But reporting shows that some of these firms have represented Trump or members of his inner circle in recent legal battles.

During August, Trump faced heightening, simultaneous investigations related to the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate, the Trump Organization’s finances, and a Georgia grand jury investigation into election interference. Save America is facing a separate grand jury investigation into how it fundraised in late 2020, according to ABC News.

Save America formed days after the 2020 election to fight debunked election fraud claims and has raised more than $135 million. It is registered as a leadership PAC, a type of committee that the FEC has put few restrictions on, even if some lawyers argue the law says such organizations are not allowed to spend money on personal items.

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Adav Noti, vice president and legal director for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, said money spent related to the Mar-a-Lago probe is appropriate because it is related to his official duties as a federal officeholder. But if the money is spent on a New York probe into Trump's namesake Trump Organization, that is personal use illegal under federal law, even if the FEC would not enforce it, Noti said.

"The only question that is left in terms of legality is, ‘Is the money in question subject to that ban on personal use?’ and that’s where there’s gray area right now with a leadership PAC," he said. "There are different views as to whether leadership PAC money is subject to the ban on personal use.”

Meanwhile, Save America continues to rake in money. Following the FBI search for confidential documents on Aug. 8, a joint fundraising committee tied to Save America sent out repeated appeals for donations, including to an “Official Trump Defense Fund,” wording similar to an “Official Election Defense Fund” in the days after the election that the House committee investigating Capitol attack said did not exist. Information on how much was raised from those most-recent pleas will not be available until October.

Here's how Save America spent money on legal consulting last month:

A logo for the "Official Trump Defense Fund" that Save America Joint Fundraising Committee has sought to raise money for in light of the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.
A logo for the "Official Trump Defense Fund" that Save America Joint Fundraising Committee has sought to raise money for in light of the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.

Law firms added in August

Three new law firms showed up on Save America’s filings this month and received $3.1 million total.

  • $3 million to the trust account of Critton, Luttier & Coleman LLP of West Palm Beach

  • $81,094 to Dhillon Law Group Inc. of San Francisco

  • $50,000 to Weber, Crabb & Wein, P.A. of St. Petersburg

Critton Luttier did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It's unclear what the money was spent on.

Harmeet Dhillon, the managing partner of Dhillon Law Group, also chairs the Republican National Lawyer's Association. She's made several Fox News appearances in support of Trump. She appeared on Fox News' Ingraham Angle program on Aug. 23, where she endorsed the move by Trump lawyers to seek a special master to oversee FBI document seizures at the former president's Mar-a-Lago mansion. She also used the appearance to raise the prospect of a motion to recuse the magistrate judge who approved the warrant for that search because of what she characterized as bias.

John D. O'Connor, a trial litigator and fee expert based in San Francisco, said it's common for attorneys to charge $1,000 to $1,500 an hour for complex litigation. The legal challenges facing Trump are quite complex, he said.

"You have multiple issues ranging from possible criminal prosecution to an analysis of the Presidential Records Act and what the president’s rights are and what they’re not, and also there may be some analysis of questions of classified versus unclassified information," he said.

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Highest-paid firms

Habba Madaio & Associates LLP, headquartered in New Jersey, is one of the highest paid law firms on the list. The firm received $943,277 this year, including $207,827 in August.

Attorneys Alina Habba and Michael Madaio represented Trump in his racketeering lawsuit that accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey and others of scheming to vilify Trump by suggesting he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election. A judge dismissed that case in early September, calling it a "200-page political manifesto."

Habba also has represented Trump during a continuing investigation of the Trump Organization, the former president's company, by the New York State Attorney General's Office. On Wednesday, the state filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump falsely inflated his net worth to enrich himself and his family.

"We look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims," Habba said Wednesday.

Elections LLC, a politics-and elections-focused legal consulting group based in Washington, D.C. and founded by three top Trump allies, has received $412,028 from Save America, including $10,000 in August.

The company’s founders are Stefan Passantino, a former deputy White House counsel under Trump; Justin Clark, a former Trump campaign official and advisor; and Matthew Morgan, general counsel for Trump's unsuccessful 2020 presidential reelection campaign. Passantino is believed to have represented former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. However, she later switched attorneys and became a key witness for the House Jan. 6 committee, The New York Times reported.

Squire Patton Boggs LLP, an influential firm founded in Cleveland, Ohio, that has a lobbying arm, has received $210,850, with the latest payout in July.

Alan S. Futerfas Attorney At Law has received $184,744, with all the money coming in July. Futerfas has represented Trump during the New York attorney general's ongoing probe. The law firm is based in New York City.

Earth & Water Law LLC, headquartered in Washington, D.C. received $175,000 in June for legal consulting. One of the firm's lawyers, John S. Irving IV, has represented former Trump aide Peter Navarro in his contempt of Congress case. Navarro, a former trade advisor in the White House, was indicted for contempt of Congress after not complying with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee.

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Save America rally on March 26, 2022 in Commerce, Georgia, part of Trump's Save America tour around the United States. (Photo by Megan Varner/ Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Save America rally on March 26, 2022 in Commerce, Georgia, part of Trump's Save America tour around the United States. (Photo by Megan Varner/ Getty Images)

Other key firms

JPRowley Law PLLC, headquartered in Washington, D.C., received $221,218, including $52,266 in August. SECIL Law PLLC, also based in Washington, D.C. got $175,000 for legal consulting, all in June.

What the firms share in common is that attorney John Rowley has worked at both, their websites show.

Rowley has represented Trump in the Department of Justice investigation of the Jan. 6 attack. He also has represented senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller's legal battle against a House subpoena in the Jan. 6 investigation and Navarro.

Washington, D.C.-headquartered Ifrah Law PLLC has received $302,770 for legal consulting, with most of that, $242,770, coming in August. James M. Trusty,  a member with the firm,  is among Trump's lawyers in the special master case. He was in a Brooklyn federal courtroom Tuesday for arguments on that case.

Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, headquartered in Baltimore, received $157,512, including $68,413 in August. One of the firm's lawyers, Evan Corcoran, represented Trump in the case involving the special master and was in New York  with Trusty regarding that case on Tuesday.

Registered in Wyoming and based in a Miami high-rise overlooking Biscayne Bay, New Age Consulting LLC received $64,240 from Save America for legal consulting, including $8,333 in August, the political action committee's new filing shows.

The company, which is not a law firm, is headed by Shelly Lipkis, a paralegal who previously worked at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, an international law firm headquartered in New York City, online records show. In addition to the money her company received, she received $33,984 from Save America, with the latest payment coming in April, for legal consulting and office supplies.

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Lawyers on the payroll

Christina Bobb, a lawyer and former host at the One America News Network, has received $59,653, including $6,026 in August. Since the search of Mar-a-Lago, Bobb has defended Trump in television interviews.

Lindsey Halligan, one of the lawyers representing Trump in his case seeking a special master, has received $36,282, including $7,256 in August. She was also in a Brooklyn federal courtroom with Trusty and Corcoran on Tuesday.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY and Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump PAC's legal spending skyrockets to $3.9M in August amid probes