As former President Donald Trump’s legal woes mount, the line between his criminal defense and his 2024 presidential campaign is blurring, a political and financial muddying that The Washington Post projects will only worsen as multiple prosecutions continues to dominate his time, resources and messaging.
Trump’s appeals to stay out of prison on social media, in rally speeches and in interviews have become a mainstay of his candidacy, as evidenced by his frequent claims online that the criminal investigations against him are “witch hunts” that constitute election interference. His criticism of his indictments and the agencies investigating him have subsequently drawn the support of much of the Republican base despite — and, in some cases, because of — the severity of his charges.
“What is likely to come is a campaign like the country has never seen before: A candidate juggling multiple criminal indictments while slashing the Department of Justice and his opponents, shuttling between early primary states for rallies and courtrooms for hearings, and spending his supporters’ money on both millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and burgeoning legal bills,” according to the Post.
Many of Trump’s aides have also been placed in challenging positions because they could also be called as witnesses against him in trials. Whether Trump, who announced on Tuesday that he received a target letter from special counsel Jack Smith in the federal probe of Jan. 6, wins or loses the 2024 race could determine whether he really could face prison time.
“I didn’t know practically what a subpoena was and grand juries and all of this — now I’m like becoming an expert,” Trump said during a Tuesday speech to the Linn County Republican Party in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I have no choice because we have to. It’s a disgrace. If you say something about an election, they want to put you in jail for the rest of your life.”
Just over half the money Trump raised last quarter went to a campaign-affiliated political action committee that is covering his legal bills. According to the latest report to the Federal Election Commission, of the more than $35 million raised between March and June, the campaign received $17.7 million. The remainder went to the Save America PAC, which will report its latest finances on July 31 but had reportedly been spending millions on attorneys for Trump and his allies amid his bevy of ongoing cases, FEC disclosures show.
“A lot of money is going to legal and people who don’t do much, and not a lot is left over to do marketing and advertising,” one anonymous Trump advisor told the Post. “A lot of the money we’re raising is just going to legal.”
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung reasoned that the political and legal efforts are merging because Trump and his supporters perceive the prosecutions as a President Biden-led move to block him from the Oval Office.
“They see another political indictment or target letter and they know this is just the weaponized Biden Justice Department going after President Trump,” Cheung said. “It solidifies in their mind what the President has been saying for all these months. So much of the legal messaging is political messaging and so much of political messaging is legal messaging.”
Biden, however, has denied the claims, saying that he “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.”
Trump’s personal fortune has notably remained untouched when it comes to his legal ordeals: His latest financial disclosure indicated he earned roughly $1 billion during a period covering most of his time since leaving office.
“Trump’s supporters are being taken advantage of by having to foot the bill for Trump’s legal troubles,” Ken Cuccinelli, an advisor to the super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, told the Post.
The Trump campaign’s manner of committing funds to legal fees is unusual among Republicans and noteworthy, according to rival political operatives. Chip Saltsman, the national campaign chairman for former vice president Mike Pence, assured the Post that “we have not spent a lot of money on legal fees.”
Advisors said Trump has been zeroing in on polling, the electoral implications of his charges and how to defend against prosecutors. The former president and his advisors often cite polls that show his popularity among Republican voters, and they recognize that winning the 2024 election is the clearest way for Trump to skirt his charges. Several advisors described to the Post a concerted effort to paint Trump as martyr-like and affirmed that he intends to keep campaigning.
“He just sort of accepts this is his life now, and he’s got to win,” one advisor said.
Trump could be forging ahead in his campaign while facing four separate trials connected to a number of criminal charges: a New York indictment accusing Trump of issuing a hush money payment to an adult film star ahead of the 2016 election; special counsel Jack Smith’s June indictment related to Trump’s handling of classified materials; a potential indictment from Smith’s office into Jan. 6 and Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election; and a potential indictment from an Atlanta-area district attorney’s investigation into alleged attempts to overturn election results in Georgia.
Advisors said the campaign anticipated the Georgia case to strike next and was surprised when Smith sent Trump a target letter Sunday. In contrast with the documents case, which Trump’s team expected would yield charges, many did not anticipate any to come from the Jan. 6 case. The campaign is now preparing for a possible indictment as early as next week, anonymous aides told the Post, with plans to respond with a speech, fundraising appeals and taped videos.
“This was nothing that anybody even anticipated for making a speech, and a very good speech,” Trump said Tuesday in an interview with Doug Wagner on WHO NewsRadio 1040, in reference to a speech he gave on Jan. 6 that included false claims about the election. “Most people are very surprised that this was ever even brought … They want to try to bloody up so you can’t beat Biden.”
Longtime Trump advisor Jason Miller told the Post that fundraising has already been kicked into “overdrive” and the campaign is “prepared politically for any scenario that the deep state throws at us.”
He added that Trump is used to being the subject of “witch hunts,” citing his two impeachment trials, the Jan. 6 committee and now the array of criminal probes. Advisors said that Trump’s supporters donate the most when they believe him to be under attack.
“It starts to all blend together,” Miller said. “People get and understand the fact that these legal attacks are nothing more of an insurance policy to try and stop him from getting back to the White House.”
As a result, the campaign has taken a frank and direct approach with supporters regarding the resources put toward Trump’s legal defense, even contextualizing calls for fundraising around the investigations. One Tuesday message read, “Please make a contribution to show that you will NEVER SURRENDER our country to tyranny as the Deep State thugs try to JAIL me for life.”
In the aftermath of Trump’s June federal indictment, the campaign said it had raised over $4.5 million online in addition to another $2.1 million generated at an extravagant event.
The campaign is also loosening the boundaries between Trump’s political and legal teams as it acknowledges aides’ involvement in discussions about the cases could later prompt their own subpoenas or legal liability. The defense’s court arguments are also echoing Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, “emphasizing the prosecution of a leading opposition candidate by the incumbent administration” as the legal team signals its aim to delay Trump’s trials until after the election, the Post noted.
“You have essentially the two right now leading candidates for the presidency of the United States squaring off against each other in the courtroom,” Trump lawyer Chris Kise said at a Florida hearing in the documents case on Tuesday.
“The fact that we’re talking about the volume of discovery, the schedules that we have, and the schedule of President Trump, we’re not asking for special treatment. That’s the reality,” Todd Blanche, another attorney for Trump, added at the Florida hearing. “I’m not making that schedule up, I’m not making up any facts here.”
Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal judge overseeing the classified docs case, scheduled the trial to begin in May 2024 in a Friday ruling. The New York trial was preliminarily set for March of next year but those dates often change.
Despite much of the recent buzz around Trump revolving around his criminal cases, his team has enjoyed his volume of media attention. In particular, aides reportedly were happy to see the updates about Trump’s target letter interrupt the CNN broadcast of the network’s interview with DeSantis.
The Florida governor was one of several Republicans who came to Trump’s defense this week, suggesting he shouldn’t be prosecuted for his conduct on Jan. 6. His critical rivals — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — shared predictions that, in following with the pattern, another indictment would boost Trump’s standing in the primary.
“I expect his poll numbers to go up again,” said Hutchinson, who has called on Trump to suspend his campaign. “Over the long term you have to believe that people are under going to understand the seriousness of it, you’re going to see the challenge of being a president or even being a candidate with multiple indictments against you, and that is going to jeopardize us winning in 2024.”
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