Photo by Ekaterina Ilina on Unsplash

Trump Fund-Raising Goes For Haute-Couture And Millions For Lawyers

Phil Garber
8 min readFeb 3, 2024

--

Chances are the average MAGA follower doesn’t make anywhere near $1,250 an hour and it’s a good bet the average MAGA woman doesn’t spend $1,995 for a pair of those exquisite Manolo Blanikc women’s Hangisi 105mm embellished satin pumps in cobalt blue.

Then again, the average MAGA supporter is retired and on a fixed income and has no access to either the Save America or Make America Great Again (MAGA) political action committees (PACs) and the many millions of dollars in the PACs that were donated by backers of the great grifter.

Unbeknownst to those MAGA retirees, the former and wannabe future president has dipped his little fingers into the till to pay millions of dollars in personal legal fees defending him from a basket full of charges, from badmouthing a woman he once molested in a store dressing room to whipping up his minions to attack the Capitol in a desperate effort to keep him in the White House.

Those MAGA fans unlucky enough to need a bail bondsman must open their check books, unlike trump, who even charged his $7,500 bail bondsman fee to the PAC last summer after he was indicted in Georgia. Adding insult to injury, trump went on to capitalize on his indictment by selling MAGA merch emblazoned with his mug shot photo.

The Save America PAC also has footed the bills to accommodate Melania trump’s top drawer tastes. The 2023 Federal Election Commission report on itemized disbursements from Save America, notes six, $1,800 payments for “strategic consulting” to Herve Pierre Braillard. In total, the Save America PAC has paid Braillard $371,000 since April 2022. Braillard has helped Melania select outfits for official duties and has designed some of her clothes, including her 2017 inaugural ball dress which is exhibited at the National Museum of American History.

Braillard is a French-American, haute couture fashion and costume designer. In 1987, he received the first Christian Dior award from the Comité Colbert, an association “to promote the concept of luxury.”

“My role is to dress the First Lady and advise her — I’m not a stylist,” Braillard said in a 2017 interview with Vogue. “I am an advisor, and she is adamant about that. Who, as a free woman, is going to be told what to wear? It’s a conversation, a collaboration. Without intellectualizing, my advice is respectful and it makes sense.”

It’s not clear if Melania’s purchases included those crazy, expensive stiletto heels.

Save America was formed in November 2020 by trump as his primary fundraising and political spending arm. By July 2023, the PAC had $99 million in cash.

Most of the PAC money hasn’t been spent on the former First Lady but rather on keeping the former president out of jail. Trump would surely prefer using the PAC money to further his campaign, but he has had to dish out millions to lawyers, with no end in sight.

Trump has found dozens of lawyers more than willing to get on board as his fundraising committees have spent roughly $50 million on legal consulting in 2023, including a whopping $30 million in the second half of the year, according to federal filings. Trump currently faces 91 criminal charges, and it is unclear if he has paid any of his lawyers out of his pocket.

The hourly rates charged by the many lawyers were not available. But they are most likely very well paid, as with the most popular lawyers in the trump years who were previously paid as much as $1,250 per hour. Those lofty fees went to lawyers with Kirkland & Ellis of Chicago, the world’s largest law firm by revenues, the seventh largest by the number of lawyers and the first law firm in the world to reach $4 billion in annual revenues.

Many attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis have served as federal officials or judges, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorneys General William Barr and Robert Bork. The former Kirkland & Ellis lawyers under trump and Barr effectively controlled the Justice Department.

A network of former Kirkland lawyers, authorized by Barr, provided trump’s defense in the E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit. Lawyers were not able to get the case dismissed but did delay it until after the 2020 presidential election. Last year, a jury found trump guilty of sexually assaulting Carroll in late 1995 or early 1996 in the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York City. Last week another jury ordered trump to pay $83.3 million to Carroll for defamation.

In addition to Barr, Kirkland lawyers serving in powerful positions under trump included Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen; Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Claire Murray; Assistant Attorney General Jeff Clark; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Brightbill; Beth Williams, assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Policy; John Moran, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and associate attorney general; Steven Engel, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel; Doug Smith, deputy assistant general in charge of the Torts Branch; Kellen Dwyer, deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Law and Policy in the National Security Division; and Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division.

There is no end in sight for trump’s legal costs, meaning the golden calf will remain strong for his lawyers. Firms that took in the most money from trump’s PACs include $4.03 million to Alina Habba and her firm, Habba Madaio & Associates.

A low point in Habba’s brief legal career came on July 19, 2022, when she was sued by a former employee Na’Syia Drayton who claimed Habba repeatedly sang inappropriate gangster rap and hip-hop music in the office while using the N word, made racist comments, and referred to New York’s attorney general Letitia James as ‘“that Black bitch.” The lawsuit was settled out of court in September 2022.

Habba, 40, formed her own, five-person law firm in 2020, in Bedminister, a stone’s throw from trump’s golf club. She had joined trump’s club in 2019 and she and trump got acquainted. She was hired in September 2021 to join trump’s legal team. In addition to representing trump, Habba is a senior advisor for MAGA, Inc.

Habba’s track record with trump has been fairly dismal. She represented trump in his spectacularly unsuccessful defense in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case.

She first represented trump in 2021 when he filed a $100 million lawsuit against the New York Times and trump’s estranged niece, Mary Trump, and others. The case was ultimately dismissed and Habba and trump were fined $983,000 for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other political rivals.

She also was a part of the trump legal team in the civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. In September, Judge Arthur Engoron issued a partial summary judgment ruling that trump and top executives at The Trump Organization committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets to obtain more favorable terms from lenders and insurers. A verdict is expected in February, deciding how much the Republican will pay in damages. James is seeking the return of $370 million in profits Trump made.

She also represented trump in a defamation case brought by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, who claimed that trump had sexually assaulted her in a hotel room. Trump denied the claim and accused her of lying.

Habba has practiced law since 2011. Before 2021, Habba’s legal experience included being general counsel for a parking garage company.

Among pre-trump cases, Habba represented a man suing a New Jersey nursing home for allegedly lax care during the coronavirus pandemic, and a student who sued the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut for not refunding tuition when classes went online-only. She also sued two Portuguese news outlets for allegedly libeling a New Jersey man by tying him to a far-right Portuguese political party.

Habba was born in Summit. Her parents were Catholics who emigrated from Iraq to the United States in the early 1980s to escape persecution in their home country. Her father, Saad F. Habba, is a gastroenterologist.

According to published reports, Habba and her husband, Gregg Reuben, owe more than $1 million in liens and warrants. In 2023, Habba had two active liens filed against her law firm in the state of Maine by the Department of Labor. Her husband owes tax liens totaling more than $770,000.

Chris Kise made the most among the trump lawyers. His firms, Chris Kise and Associates and Continental PLLC, collected a cool $8.97 million.

Kise, a former Florida solicitor general, is trump’s lead lawyer in the fraud case brought by the New York attorney general’s office. In a possible foil to trump’s past history of failing to pay lawyers, Kise was paid a retainer of $3 million upfront, to represent trump in the federal criminal case over his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House, a matter that is going through federal court in Miami.

Kise is also representing trump in the New York civil fraud lawsuit.

Kise was an advisor to former Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist and current Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently dropped out of the GOP race for president. Kise also represents Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Andrew Gillum, a former Tallahassee, Fla., mayor.

On Sept. 26, 2023, Kise and four other lawyers were sanctioned for making “repetitive, frivolous” arguments on behalf of trump and the Trump Organization in the context of New York litigation challenging alleged fraud.

Clifford Robert and his firm of Robert & Robert have been paid $5.29 million to represent Eric and Donald trump Jr., and their businesses in the New York attorney general’s fraud case.

A total of $4.61 million went to Harmeet Dhillon, a part of the legal team that will represent trump at the Supreme Court on trump’s eligibility to be on the 2024 presidential ballot. Dhillon, a regular guest on Fox News, is the former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party. She was a legal adviser on the trump 2020 campaign and said she hoped that the Supreme Court, including trump-appointed justices such as Amy Coney Barrett, would help trump win the presidency.

Lawyer John Lauro was paid $2.65 million for work on trump’s federal election interference case. Lauro is based in Tampa, Fla. and specializes in white collar crime.

Evan Corcoran got $2.63 million before he pulled out as trump’s lawyer in the classified documents case. Corcoran, a former federal prosecutor, unsuccessfully defended Steve Bannon in his contempt of Congress case that ended in Bannon being found guilty. Corcoran also defended a Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty to participating in the January 6 Capitol attack by trump supporters.

Attorney Todd Blanche was paid $2.33 million to represent trump in the New York case involving alleged hush money that trump paid to porn star, Stormy Daniels. Blanche also is a former federal prosecutor with experience in white-collar defense cases. He previously represented trump ally Paul Manafort and Igor Fruman, an associate of former trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Lawyer Joe Tacopina was paid $1.77 million before he withdrew from the Stormy Daniels and E. Jean Carroll cases. In resigning, Tacopina said he had to follow his “compass” and that he wanted to focus on representing his client, rapper A$AP Rocky, in an upcoming case.

“I had to follow my compass and my compass told me my time there was done. There are a lot of personal reasons that went into that, things that I can’t and won’t discuss,” Tacopina said.

A New York lawyer, Tacopina has represented high-profile clients including New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez; Joran van der Sloot, the suspect in the disappearance of high school student Natalee Holloway; Michael Jackson; Italian sailor Chico Forti; actor Lillo Brancato; New York state senator Hiram Monserrate; and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald trump Jr.

Steven Sadow was paid $1.5 million in the Georgia election interference case. Other notable clients include the rappers Gunna, T.I., Usher, Rick Ross, Ty Dolla Sign and lawyer Howard K. Stern. He also represented The Gold Club (strip club) owner Steven E. Kaplan during a racketeering trial in 2001.

--

--

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer