The law firms of Trump’s lead lawyer, Jay Sekulow, and attorney Jane Raskin have received $225,000 from the RNC through November, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. The party will pay the duo for their work this month and probably into February as the trial continues, according to people familiar with the arrangement who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal financing.
The president’s legal team also includes celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and former Florida attorney general turned lobbyist Pam Bondi — all of whom have raised their profiles and earnings potential with frequent media appearances defending Trump.
Because Trump is on trial as a result of his status as an officeholder or candidate, election law allows him to dip into campaign or party funds for his legal bills.
“We are more than happy to cover some of the costs of defending the president from this partisan impeachment sham,” said Mike Reed, RNC deputy chief of staff for communications.
The president is benefiting from a measure in a 2014 law that dramatically increased how much national parties can raise by allowing them to collect large donations for separate accounts to finance presidential conventions, building renovations and legal proceedings. Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee of the Trump campaign and the RNC, transferred about $2.7 million into the RNC’s legal account from September through November, as the impeachment inquiry escalated, according to campaign filings.
Donors to the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign have already covered millions of dollars in attorney fees stemming from the president’s other legal travails: former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, court battles over the president’s tax returns, and a now-withdrawn defamation lawsuit filed by a former campaign staffer.
The House investigation, December impeachment vote and Senate trial, Reed said, have been a boon to fundraising efforts. Reed said there have been more than 600,000 new donors since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) formally announced the impeachment inquiry in late September.
“The Democrat impeachment charade is the gift that keeps on giving for our side,” Reed said.
Dershowitz, whose clients have included O.J. Simpson and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, said he will not accept payment for his work.
“For me, it’s a matter of principle,” said Dershowitz, who argued Monday that the House charges of abuse of power and obstruction do not meet the constitutional standard of impeachment. “If I am paid, it will go to charity. I will not keep any money I get from this case.”
Among the other private attorneys are Raskin, a Florida-based lawyer who since 2018 has worked for Trump navigating Mueller’s probe; Starr, whose investigation into Clinton formed the basis of his impeachment; Robert A. Ray, Starr’s successor in the independent counsel’s office; and Eric D. Herschmann from the law firm of Trump’s longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz.
Starr declined to talk about his legal fees or to comment for this story. Ray, Herschmann and Raskin did not return messages seeking comment.
Those lawyers work in tandem with a set of attorneys from the Office of the White House Counsel, led by Pat Cipollone, who represents the president in his official capacity.
Seated around a cramped, arc-shaped table in front of the president’s jury of 100 senators, the government lawyers include Patrick F. Philbin, who worked with Cipollone at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, and Michael M. Purpura, a former federal prosecutor and top Justice Department official. They receive taxpayer-paid, annual salaries between $168,000 and $183,000, according to an annual report of White House personnel.
Bondi joined the White House staff late last year after lobbying for clients such as Qatar and General Motors. Bondi did not respond to requests for comment about her salary.
House Democrats, who serve as prosecutors at the trial, also have enlisted outside legal help. In a brief filed before the impeachment trial, they acknowledged assistance from 16 lawyers who work for the House, in addition to five attorneys led by David A. O’Neil with the firm Debevoise & Plimpton. Those lawyers are not charging the House for their work, according to a spokesperson for Pelosi.
As Clinton faced impeachment in 1998, supporters established a trust fund to raise money to cover the Clintons’ bills, which eventually exceeded $10 million because of the years-long Whitewater investigation into a real estate deal, the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and the impeachment proceedings and trial.
“Fundraising would spike when anything significant happened in the investigation or trial,” said Richard M. Lucas, who was counsel to the Clinton Legal Expense Trust. “Average Americans wanted to express their view about what was happening.”
Clinton’s popularity surged after his acquittal by the Senate in early February 1999 and in quick order — by late that month — his legal defense fund had raised more than $4.5 million.
Most of the trust money flowed to two Washington law firms: Williams & Connolly and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Yet even with the legal fund, Hillary Clinton said in a 2014 interview that the couple left the White House “not only dead broke, but in debt” as she defended the millions of dollars she and the former president earned giving paid speeches and writing books. The former secretary of state later said she regretted the remark.
Unlike Clinton, who was in his second term during the impeachment trial, Lucas said Trump and the Republican Party have more leverage to solicit donations ahead of Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.
“The party has become an extension of the administration,” Lucas said.
As Trump declared in one recent campaign fundraising email: “The Senate Impeachment Trial is today and the only way we can win this war is if every patriot steps up and becomes a 2020 Sustaining Member . . . I want to raise TWO MILLION DOLLARS in the NEXT 24 HOURS and end this Impeachment Trial Scam once and for all.”
Trump’s campaign committee is not directly paying impeachment-related legal bills, according to a campaign official, although the campaign does transfer money to the RNC from time to time.
The 2014 measure that lifted some limits on national party fundraising means that along with a $35,500 check to the RNC, a donor also can spread $319,500 between the additional accounts for conventions, headquarters and legal proceedings.
The provision was crafted by leaders of both parties with the help of leading campaign finance attorneys, including Marc Elias, former general counsel of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. That the well-known Democratic election lawyer had a hand in expanding the amount the RNC can raise for Trump’s impeachment trial is not lost on some campaign finance reformers.
“It was horrible the way we blew up the limits on donations to national parties because it allows people to buy access and influence,” said Paul S. Ryan, a vice president at Common Cause, a government-watchdog group. “Contrary to popular perception, the Democratic Party has long fought to loosen restrictions on money and politics, hand in hand with the Republicans. The public doesn’t think that because Democrats on the stump talk about campaign finance reform.”
Elias defended the creation of the legal proceedings account, saying the Democratic Party has used that money to fund lawsuits challenging what it sees as voter suppression tactics around the country.
“So while Democrats are using the money to protect voting rights, Republicans are using the money to protect Trump from removal,” Elias said.
One donor who gave the maximum contribution to the RNC in recent months, thereby padding the account for legal proceedings, was New York billionaire John Catsimatidis.
“I want to defend the president,” Catsimatidis said of his donation. “He did not do high crimes and misdemeanors.”
In addition to the two sets of Trump lawyers in the Senate chamber this week, the president’s written legal brief lists another five private attorneys who work for a nonprofit Christian legal organization run by Sekulow.
The group, the American Center for Law and Justice, employs and contracts with several of Sekulow’s relatives and companies they control, The Washington Post has reported. The ACLJ raises tens of millions of dollars each year from supporters of its antiabortion advocacy.
Sekulow’s private law firm, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, has received $120,000 from the RNC so far for impeachment work, according to public records. The firm was also paid $6.1 million by the ACLJ in the year ending April 2019, according to a tax return filed to the IRS last fall. Sekulow owns 50 percent of the law firm.
During a break in the trial last week, Sekulow was asked about his role and compensation.
“I wouldn’t say paid adviser — I’m the president’s retained counsel,” Sekulow told reporters. “So I don’t discuss my legal fees, but we’re paid for our legal skills.”
Jon Swaine, Anu Narayanswamy and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.