Donald Trump is a self-professed billionaire. But since he was elected president, he’s relied on the generosity of his donors, not his own deep pockets, to pay for the lawyers he and his son have used to handle the Russia probe.
Those donors could not care less. In fact, they’re insulted you’d even ask.
“I’m totally fine with it,” said Jeffrey Shapiro of Virginia. “I really don’t give a crap. I really don’t.”
“I think this is a stupid article, actually,” he added for good measure. “Because I think the Russia investigation is a waste of everyone’s time.”
Shapiro is D.C.-based lawyer. He has given $195 to date to the Trump 2020 re-election campaign. He does so via automatic account withdrawals he’s set up, giving an estimated $25 a month. And he has no plans to change that. The “bullshit” Russia investigation has incentivized him to keep giving because, he argues, it’s the cost Trump is paying for the act of public service he is performing, serving as president.
Other donors said they too were proud that their contributions—however minor—were helping foot the president’s legal bills.
“Yep, I am [fine with it],” said Angie Charlson, owner of a Taco Johns shop in South Dakota and a giver of $300 this year to the Trump campaign. “And you know what? I don’t give a shit. Because it is a joke. All the fake news and the crap that’s going on… I don’t like that everyone is opposing him. That’s not what we put them there to do. So I say, ‘Go get them, Donald Trump.’”
The donations made by Charlson and Shapiro are among the 20,357 itemized individual contributions the Trump campaign had received so far this year. All told, the campaign has raised just shy of $7.8 million from individual donors, though it’s received more than $14.2 million from Republican National Committee joint fundraising accounts.
But it’s not the money raised that has turned heads recently. It’s what the campaign has spent that money on. According to the campaign’s most recent financial reports, roughly $1.1 million had been dropped between July and September on “legal consulting” fees. Much of that was paid to the firm Jones Day. A good chunk, nearly $270,000, was for Donald Trump Jr.’s legal fees related to the Russia probe.
None of this is illegal. In fact, ethicists say it may be preferable to alternative structures: such as if Trump were to have an opaque legal defense fund through which major corporations and donors could seek influence by helping him out with his bills. It still is remarkable, however, if only because Trump is relying on individuals with far fewer means to fund his legal bills.
Tim Mourad, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, said he was “absolutely fine” with Trump spending his donations on lawyers that Trump himself could afford. But he noted that the $1,500 he had given to the campaign was “a lot” for him financially. Others said they also had given a fair chunk of their personal wealth to Trump’s campaign because the general assumption was that the Russia probe was equal parts joke and partisan ruse.
“[Former FBI Director James] Comey told us from the beginning: It is a fake news story,” said Nancy Combs, a real-estate agent from California. “It is manufactured. It is part of the subversive underculture to keep Trump from doing what it is that he wants to do. There is nothing with this Russian thing. We may have had Russian influences in our government... but it wasn’t as a result of a liaison with the Trumps.”
Though Trump’s political standing has weakened significantly since his election, his base remains fervently supportive. The sense among donors interviewed for this report is that the president has succeeded far more than his critics concede and that where he has fallen short it has not been the fault of his own. Congressional Republicans took much of the blame. But so too did the media and the Democrats.
Ted, a West Palm Beach, Florida, resident (who asked that his last name not be used), called the Russia probe a “classic Democratic strategy” meant “to tie the opposition down in legal fees, subpoenas, document requests.” And he suspected that Russia’s meddling in the election was no greater or different than what had been done in the past. Trump employing lawyers to bat down these accusations, he said, was “exactly where I want my donations spent.”
“Democrats have made it illegal to even have an innocuous conversation with a Russian,” Ted said. “The American people are sick of it. So, no, I don’t mind at all that my small-dollar donations will help fund the Trumps, who have stepped into the lion’s den on behalf of folks like me. He ruined his life by running for president, but he did it for people like me—small-dollar donations are the least I can do to help repel the media.”