Trump’s PACs Spent Roughly $50 Million on Legal Expenses in 2023
Donald J. Trump piled up legal expenses in 2023 as he was indicted four times, spending approximately $50 million in donor money on legal bills and investigation-related expenses last year, according to two people briefed on the figure.
It is a staggering sum. His lone remaining rival in the 2024 Republican primary, Nikki Haley, raised roughly the same amount of money across all her committees in the last year as Mr. Trump’s political accounts spent paying the bills stemming from his various legal defenses, including lawyers for witnesses.
The exact figure spent on legal bills will be reported on Wednesday in new filings to the Federal Election Commission. But even those totals can be imprecise depending on how certain expense items are categorized by those doing the paperwork.
The broader picture expected to be outlined in the documents is one of a former president heading toward the Republican nomination while facing enormous financial strain.
The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Mr. Trump, who has long been loath to pay lawyers himself and has a history of stiffing those who represent him, has used funds in his political action committee, known as Save America, to underwrite his legal bills. The account was originally flooded with donations that were collected during the period immediately after the 2020 election when he was making widespread and false claims of voting fraud.
But with Save America’s coffers nearly drained last year, Mr. Trump sought to refill them through a highly unusual transaction: He asked for a refund of $60 million that he had initially transferred to a different group, a pro-Trump super PAC called MAGA Inc., to support his 2024 campaign.
In addition, Mr. Trump has been directing 10 percent of donations raised online to Save America, meaning 10 cents of every dollar he has received from supporters is going to a PAC that chiefly funds his lawyers.
Mr. Trump has paid legal expenses through both Save America and a second account, called the Make America Great Again PAC, which is an outgrowth of his 2020 re-election committee. In the first half of 2023, Save America transferred $5.85 million to the Make America Great Again PAC, which spent almost all of that sum on legal and investigation-related costs.
The roughly $50 million figure is a combination of such costs through both groups.
Mr. Trump’s super PAC, MAGA Inc., refunded $30 million to Save America in the second half of 2023, an average of $5 million per month. That is in addition to the $12.5 million in refunds that the super PAC had previously reported that it gave back in the first half of the year.
The net result was redirecting $42.5 million from a super PAC devoted to electing him as president to a committee now chiefly devoted to paying his lawyers. The refund was nearly equal to the $43.8 million the super PAC spent on so-called independent expenditures, such as television advertising, to shape the 2024 primary last year.
Alex Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s super PAC, said the group had raised a total of $120 million, including the $60 million transfer that is in the process of being refunded.
“This is old, recycled news about a refund request that was reported on nearly a year ago,” Mr. Pfeiffer said in a statement. “The battle to defeat Joe Biden is here, and the time for everyone to step up and join this fight is now. Every dollar being raised by MAGA Inc. is going directly to defeating Joe Biden in November.”
For Mr. Trump, the refunds have been necessary because his legal costs have been mounting.
Mr. Trump is facing four criminal indictments in four different jurisdictions, with two trials tentatively scheduled for March. At least one of those two trials, and potentially both, will be delayed, but all the cases require mountains of preparation by Mr. Trump’s team of pricey lawyers.
Mr. Trump has been indicted by a Georgia grand jury and by federal prosecutors in Washington in connection with his efforts to subvert his loss in the 2020 presidential election that President Biden won. He has been indicted by the Manhattan district attorney for falsifying business records related to a hush money payment to a porn star during the 2016 election. And he has been indicted in connection with having reams of classified material at his members-only club and home, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Mr. Trump had also been paying some of the legal fees for aides who have been ensnared as witnesses in the various cases. Walt Nauta, Mr. Trump’s co-defendant in the documents case, is still on his campaign payroll. Another co-defendant in the case, Carlos De Oliveira, works at Mar-a-Lago.
To ease some of the financial burden, aides to Mr. Trump opened a legal-defense fund last year to pay legal fees of Trump allies who are connected to the various investigations. The fund, which reported raising $1.6 million from July through early December, is not intended for the former president himself.
Mr. Trump is also facing a financial tsunami from civil litigation against him.
On Friday, a federal civil jury ordered Mr. Trump to pay the New York writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in a defamation case she brought against him. A previous federal civil jury ruled that he had sexually abused her decades ago and that he had defamed her as he denied her allegations.
And in the coming days, the New York state judge overseeing a civil fraud trial against Mr. Trump and his company will decide how much of a penalty Mr. Trump is required to pay in connection with the case. The New York attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the suit, asked the judge to grant a penalty of $370 million.