Trump’s campaign is spending more on legal fees, paying 13 law firms in Q3

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign spent more on lawyers in the past three months than in any other quarter this election cycle as he continues to grapple with a range of legal challenges.

According to a federal campaign finance report filed on Oct. 15, the Trump campaign spent $2.1 million on “legal consulting” between July 1 and Sept. 30. That’s up from $1.5 million in the second quarter of 2019 and $1.7 million in the first quarter — periods that covered the final stretch of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Little, if any, of the spending appears to be related to the impeachment inquiry that House Democrats launched against Trump last month. The president can, however, use campaign funds for impeachment-related legal costs, according to Adav Noti, senior director for trial litigation at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. And Trump has been raising money for his re-election campaign with social media ads asking supporters to help with his impeachment defense.

The Trump campaign has now spent $12 million on “legal consulting” in the two-plus years since launching its 2020 election campaign. That’s more than twice as much as the $5.5 million former President Barack Obama spent throughout his entire four-year re-election effort, with still over a year left before the 2020 election.

The money since 2017 has gone to 25 different law firms, many handling legal matters unrelated to the president’s re-election efforts. Traditionally, presidential campaigns keep one or two law firms on retainer.

Noti said the unusually large number of firms working for the campaign could be due to the fact it is helping cover legal expenses for a whole range of staffers. “Just for legal conflict rules, if one campaign staffer needs a lawyer to represent them in a deposition or inquiry, that firm probably isn’t going to be able to represent other employees, as well,” he explained.

In the third quarter alone, the Trump campaign paid 13 different firms, including two for the first time: King and Spalding LLP and the Bopp Law Firm PC.

Trump campaign officials declined to comment on the increase in legal spending, but the types of firms paid gives some indication.

The campaign continued to spend heavily on its Mueller defense team, paying $600,000 to multinational law firm Jones Day in the third quarter, presumably to pay off bills it accrued earlier in the year.

According to media reports, the firm has been representing the campaign in the Special Counsel’s investigation and congressional inquiries related to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Trump campaign paid even more – nearly $1 million combined – to two firms that have been representing the president and his former personal attorney in legal matters related to his alleged affair with adult film star Stephanie Clifford, who is known as Stormy Daniels.

California-based attorney Charles Harder, a media and entertainment law specialist, received more than $718,000 and the firm LaRocca Hornik Rosen Greenberg and Blaha LLP got $214,000 in the third quarter for legal matters related to Daniels, which were settled earlier in the year.

It’s less clear why the campaign paid significant sums to two other law firms.

North Carolina-based labor and employment firm Ford & Harrison received $179,000 from the Trump campaign in the third quarter.

And the Trump campaign paid King and Spalding $103,000 in two payments in July and August. Neither the campaign nor the law firm would comment on the nature of that work. But King and Spalding hired five former top Trump administration officials in 2019, most recently former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

The other firm that the Trump campaign began working with in the third quarter, the Indiana-based Bopp Law Firm, specializes in campaign finance law. The firm’s founder, Jim Bopp, confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity earlier this week that he had been “retained as special counsel for strategic and campaign finance law advice for the campaign.”

The campaign paid Bopp $25,000 in August.

Ben Weider contributed to this report.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.
Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.