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Trump Is Running Out of Other People's Money to Pay His Lawyers

Donald Trump is already facing four criminal trials, as well as a civil trial from NY AG Letitia James, and a defamation case from E. Jean Carroll. There could be others in the future. He needs a vast number of lawyers to handle all these cases. Lawyers who are willing to work for a radioactive client famous for stiffing his lawyers and equally famous for not listening to the advice his lawyers give him will not be easy to find. And for those Trump does find, he is: (1) going to have to pay through the nose and (2) pay in advance. Given these facts, he is going to need tens of millions of dollars to pay retainers. This is becoming a huge problem.

USA Today talked to defense lawyers about the economics of Trump's situation. Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense attorney, said that a 2- or 3-week trial can easily cost at least $10 million. She also noted that the RICO trial is particularly complicated and may go on for more than 3 weeks. Consequently, $10 million is probably a best case. Most likely it will cost much more.

Bruce Udolf, also a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney (are you getting a sense of where the real money is to be had?), said a top white-collar lawyer won't do it for less than $2-3 million. Udolf also said that the complexity of a racketeering case where Fulton County DA Fani Willis is charging that Trump's many criminal acts in many states with 18 other people form a criminal enterprise is enormous. Consequently, it is going to require many lawyers (at $2-3 million and up, each) and possibly a months-long trial. But even the other criminal cases are going to require multiple lawyers. Letitia James' case may also require multiple accountants and other property and tax specialists.

Sara Kropf, a partner at a small criminal defense firm in D.C said that the hourly rate for lawyers for the kinds of cases Trump has are in the ballpark of $2,000/hour (say, $100,000/week because they have to work at least 50-hour weeks). With, say, five lawyers and plenty of paralegals and assistants, Trump could be looking at a burn rate of half a megabuck per week. And this will have to go on for months of research and preparation and perhaps 6-8 weeks of trial. And this is for each of the four big cases (D.C., Georgia, and Florida plus James' case). (Alvin Bragg's case is much simpler and will be cheaper.) You do the math. Our calculator can't handle numbers this big, and since the staff mathematician doesn't have to work on Labor Day, well...

The E. Jean Carroll case could be managed by one lawyer because it is simple (but almost hopeless). The problem in that one isn't the lawyer's fee. It's the judgment. In her first defamation lawsuit, the jury found Trump liable and ordered him to pay $5 million for defaming her. So what did he do? He defamed her again so she sued again. Given this background the jury could go up to $10 million, $20 million, or $50 million this time because he knew exactly what he was doing, knew the consequences, and did it anyway. Juries don't like that. And the trial will be in New York, where the jury pool is almost as bad for Trump as it is in D.C. Maybe worse since, after all, the people in New York have known him for decades.

Up until now, Trump's solution was to fleece the rubes and get them to pay. The money was funneled through his Save America PAC. A more accurate name would be Save Trump PAC, but that might be hard to swallow, even for the rubes. The Save America PAC has raised $154.6 million and spent $150.7 million of it. It has $3.7 million in the bank now. The $150.7 million wasn't all spent on lawyers, but $38.4 million was. The rest went for travel, payroll for aides to Trump and Melania, event production, and helping election deniers win public office. But now the legal fees are going to be a huge part of the upcoming immense burn rate, not leaving much for campaigning.

Trump does have some other resources. Make America Great Again Inc. had $30.8 million on June 30 and his official campaign account had $22.5 million then. But that was 2 months ago and both have been spending since then. And he can't afford to spend most of that on lawyers because he has a campaign to run, TV ads to pay for, and a substantial staff to pay.

Trump makes Uncle Scrooge look like a big spender but could he (Trump, not Scrooge) pay his own legal expenses if he had to? Forbes has estimated that his real net worth might be $2.5 billion, most of which is tied up in hotels and golf courses he owns. Their estimate is that he might have $425 million in liquid assets, so if he weren't so averse to spending his own money, he could probably pay his lawyers out of pocket if he was pushed to the limit. But for him, giving away so much money to lawyers, whom he despises, would be an abomination. (V)

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