Trump PAC, Republican Party paid law firms in Trump Organization fraud trial
Three law firms involved in the Trump Organization’s criminal trial, including one representing the prosecution’s star witness, recently received payments from political groups associated with former President Donald Trump, records show.
The payments, totaling more than $350,000 in the last two months, made by the Save America PAC and the Republican National Committee, highlight what appear to be the close links shared between the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s personal and corporate legal apparatus.
These links appear to show the former president’s legion of loyal political donors were tapped to support his corporation’s legal troubles.
Columbia University law professor Richard Briffault, an expert on campaign finance law, said of the payments, “on its face, it seems questionable.”
“Generally these entities are required to spend money only on election-related activity,” Briffault said. “I could certainly see the argument that this has implications for (Trump’s) ability to be a successful candidate, but it strikes me as at the very least, pushing the bounds.”
Former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has testified for Manhattan prosecutors for more than two days this week. In the audience throughout was his attorney, Nicholas Gravante, a partner at the New York firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. On Sept. 23, that firm received a $75,000 payment from the Save America PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Save America is a political action committee founded by Trump in 2020 after he lost the presidential election. It has since become his chief fundraising vehicle.
Asked Thursday if the payment was related to the Trump Organization trial, Gravante said, “I have no idea. I don’t think it was in relation to this.” Cadwalader’s chief financial officer did not reply to questions about the payment.
The same day Save America paid Gravante’s firm, Sept. 23, it also paid $100,000 to van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin, according to FEC records. Michael van der Veen represents a Trump Organization company in the case. His firm previously received $149,864.39 on Feb. 7 from the Republican National Committee.
“I don’t know. I’d have to ask our accounting department,” van der Veen said when asked Thursday afternoon if the payment was related to his Trump Organization work.
Asked if he has done other recent work for Save America, van der Veen replied, “I do lots of stuff.”
Van der Veen represented Trump during his second impeachment, in February 2021. That year his firm was paid more than $780,000 by the Make America Great Again PAC and the RNC, according to FEC records. The Make America Great Again PAC was a fundraising vehicle for Trump’s 2020 campaign.
Trump has called the Manhattan criminal case a “political witch hunt.” A spokesperson for Save America, Taylor Budowich, did not reply when asked about the payments. In response to Washington Post reporting in October about the use of donor money to pay law firms, Budowich accused Democrats of “weaponizing taxpayer dollars with fake investigations and meritless cases in an attempt to intimidate and silence Republicans.”
The RNC has made five payments this year, totaling more than $885,000 to Necheles Law LLP. That firm comprises two attorneys, Susan Necheles and Gedalia Stern, who are both representing a Trump Organization company in the Manhattan trial. The most recent payments were for $116,181 on Oct. 5 and $235,570.00 on Sept. 7.
Necheles would not discuss her work for the party.
“You know, I really can’t talk about it. I’m not going to comment on it,” Necheles said.
Weisselberg is set to take the stand again Friday for his third day of testimony. In August he entered a guilty plea in the case, in which he and two Trump Organization entities were accused by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office of more than a dozen counts related to fraud and tax evasion.
They’re accused of taking part in a scheme in which executives at the company allegedly used a variety of methods to underreport to tax authorities millions in income over more than a decade.
The Trump Organization has denied all charges and during the trial its attorneys have sought to pin the blame on Weisselberg, saying he betrayed the trust of the Trumps and others at the company.