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"The big ripoff": the J6 committee's revelation about a fake Trump election defense fund, explained
“With Trump, everything comes back to a grift."
It was a scam built on the big lie.
The January 6 committee dropped a bombshell right at the end of Monday’s hearing: The Trump campaign raised huge sums for a “defense” fund during the period between Election Day 2020 and the January 6 insurrection. That fund didn’t actually exist.
According to a video prepared by the committee, during that roughly two-month period, the campaign blasted out millions of emails — as many as 25 a day to single accounts — ultimately raising $250 million for the “Trump Official Election Defense Fund,” including nearly $100 million in the week following the election. But during depositions, two Trump campaign officials told the committee no such fund existed, and described it as a mere marketing tactic.
The committee included audio clips of those depositions in its video. Watch:
According to Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel with the January 6 committee, instead of using that money to fight the bad fight, Super America PAC ended up donating $1 million to then-chief of staff Mark Meadows’s charitable foundation (the Conservative Partnership Institute, which pays its chairman, former South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, an annual salary of $500,000 according to its most recent 990), another million to a conservative organization employing several former Trump administration officials (the America First Policy Institute), $204,857 to the Trump Hotel Collection, and $5 million to the company who ran Trump’s January 6 event (Event Strategies Inc.). Drain the swamp, indeed.
"Throughout the committee's investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for,” summarized committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “So not only was there the big lie, there was the big ripoff."
Why is this important to the January 6 committee’s investigation? As I detailed yesterday, the majority of Monday’s hearing focused on establishing that Trump campaign and White House officials were under no illusions about Trump’s loss and told him the big lie was just that, but that Trump proceeded with efforts to overturn the election anyway. So revelations about the campaign bilking Trump supporters out of hundreds of millions based on false claims they knew were lies is a very bad look, if not downright fraudulent.
To get expert perspective on Trump’s fake election defense fund, I rung up Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), who I spoke to a few months ago about Trump’s ridiculously shameless fundraising emails for a post that is still the most popular one on this site.
“With Trump, everything comes back to a grift,” Libowitz told me.
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
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You and I have obviously talked numerous times about Trump’s problematic fundraising. How surprised were you by the revelation that the Trump Official Legal Defense Fund didn’t actually exist?
They've done a number of borderline things, for instance with official Trump membership cards that people could donate for that aren’t a real thing.
And the meals with Trump that nobody ever seems to win.
Yeah. They've done a lot of things that seem to be somewhat scam level fundraising tactics — not the level you tend to see on major campaigns. With this, it's designed to look like it was an actual legal defense fund when it was not.
When a campaign is going to, say, a recount, they try to raise money to pay for lawyers for that. So there's precedent there, but there's no legal remedy for Trump to overturn the election, which is something his lawyers told him over and over again. The Department of Justice also told him there was no there there. So it does seem like they were fundraising for a thing they knew they could never do, which would explain why they spent so little of the money that was raised.
I’m trying to disentangle the extent to which this was just typical sleazy political fundraising versus something beyond that. Is it common for politicians to fundraise for entities that don’t actually exist?
No, it's more of a Trump thing. Do political campaigns and parties play fast and loose in their fundraising emails? Yes, absolutely, all the time. Do they create entirely fictional things to donate to to con their supporters? Generally not.
These emails were obviously extremely deceptive. But was there anything possibly fraudulent going on?
A lot of it depends somewhat on the disclosures at the bottom of the email, which we haven't seen in the video. They would generally outline where the money was going.
But whether or not this would end up being technically legal, it certainly is not ethically okay. It's unquestionable that Trump was trying to essentially con his own supporters out of money and whether or not he could legally do that, it's generally frowned upon.
Let’s end with a big picture question. Where do you think this apparently fake legal defense fund fits with the broader story of January 6 and the investigation the committee is conducting?
With Trump, everything comes back to a grift. Even his attempt to overthrow the election was a grift. What the committee needs to do is basically establish Trump's intent. What they showed you [on Monday] was that Trump knew he did not have a legal case to overturn the election. And this hammers that home, that if he thought he did, why was he not spending the money he raised on lawyers?