Defendants in Trump Georgia Case Seek Donations for Big Legal Fees

Defendants in Trump Georgia Case Seek Donations for Big Legal | ltc-a

Steven C. Lee, an Illinois pastor charged in the Georgia election interference case against Donald J. Trump and his allies, is hoping to fund his legal defense, at least in part, with sales of “MAGA honey” bottles shaped like the former president. A higher-profile defendant, Rudolph W. Giuliani, turned to a high-dollar fund-raiser at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf club recently for help paying his lawyers.

Nearly all of the 18 defendants in the case are counting on donations to help with their legal fees in a case that will take months, if not years, to fully resolve. That includes the former president himself, who has raked in millions of dollars from small donors through his political action committee, Save America.

Mr. Trump has often rebuffed requests for financial help from co-defendants in other cases against him. In the Georgia case, the amount of money the other defendants are able to raise could determine whether they choose to fight their charges or make plea deals. They have been charged with conspiring to overturn Mr. Trump’s defeat in Georgia in the 2020 election.

Mr. Lee, accused of participating in a harassment effort against a Georgia elections worker, relied on a $3,500 donation from Rochelle Richardson, the pro-Trump internet personality who goes by Silk, to make bail in Atlanta after his indictment in August, according to his lawyer, David J. Shestokas.

Some third-party groups are also fund-raising with the stated goal of helping the defendants. One such group, Defend the Electors, portrays the Georgia prosecutions as part of a Marxist plot. Another group, the Illinois Family Institute, is promoting the plan to raise money for Mr. Lee with the sale of the honey bottles, which are similar to the popular “honey bear” design, only with a likeness of Mr. Trump’s head near the spout.

“You may like or dislike the bottle design, but it’s filled with healthy, pure, raw honey,” the group says on its website.

One of the original 19 defendants, Scott Hall, a Georgia bail bondsman, has already agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, and others may soon choose to fold. Mr. Hall, who was involved in a breach of voting software and data at a rural Georgia elections office after Mr. Trump’s defeat, was originally charged with seven felonies; he pleaded guilty last month to five misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to five years’ probation.

The pressure to cut deals is becoming more palpable with a trial for two of the defendants, the lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, set to begin on Oct. 23.

The Georgia case is unique among the four criminal cases against Mr. Trump in that it includes more than a dozen individuals from all walks of life. Among them are boldface names like Mr. Giuliani and Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former White House chief of staff, but also a retired high school teacher, a publicist and a former county elections supervisor, along with the pastor.

A number of defendants have complained about the financial burdens they could face. So have some of their conservative supporters, in an echo of critiques of big racketeering cases more often heard on the left.

“When you create these intentionally complex cases, part of the strategy is to make it so expensive for these people that it breaks them,” said Josh McKoon, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, which he said has spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars paying legal bills for three of the defendants.

Mr. Trump is in the best position to ride out an extended legal drama. Last week, as a civil fraud case against him went to trial, he used it as a fund-raising opportunity, emailing supporters to give at least $24 to a joint fund-raising committee made up of Save America and his presidential campaign.

His legal costs are substantial. Save America has paid more than $816,000 to the law firm of Drew Findling, who represented Mr. Trump in Georgia until he was replaced with another high-priced local lawyer, Steven H. Sadow, in August.

Other defendants have asked for donations on right-wing talk shows. Several are seeking financial help through GiveSendGo, a Christian fund-raising platform that has been used by people who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (The Detroit News reported this week that the Michigan attorney general’s office obtained a search warrant in August requiring GiveSendGo to turn over information related to fund-raising efforts for fake Trump electors in Michigan, who all face charges in that state.)

The online campaigns for the Georgia defendants come with written appeals that tend to portray them as innocent, and even heroic, victims. “Throughout our history have we seen the rise of Great American Heroes in our country’s most troubling times,” declared a GiveSendGo page for Ms. Powell, which had raised $9,081 of a $100,000 goal as of Wednesday.

Kathryn Geesaman, 70, a bed-and-breakfast owner in Flatonia, Texas, gave $100; in an interview this month, she said that she believed the accusations against Ms. Powell were unfounded and said that Ms. Powell and others were victims of partisan “lawfare.”

“They’re criminalizing doing the right thing,” Ms. Geesaman said of prosecutors in the Georgia case. “It’s terrible.”

One of Mr. Chesebro’s lawyers, Manubir S. Arora, set up a GiveSendGo page for his client that says Mr. Chesebro is being buried “under a mountain of legal bills.” Mr. Chesebro is shown smiling on a beach, hands outstretched. As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had raised $20.

Other GiveSendGo campaigns have fared better. One for Harrison Floyd, a defendant accused of participating in the harassment of the elections worker, has raised $328,000. One for John Eastman, a lawyer who along with Mr. Chesebro hatched a plan to have fake electors cast votes for Mr. Trump, has raised $547,000.

Mr. Meadows does not appear to have a legal defense fund, although one of his allies in Congress, Representative Chip Roy of Texas, has hinted that one may be coming. In 2021, Mr. Meadows earned nearly $560,000 working for the Conservative Partnership Institute, a policy group, according to its tax filings; the group has received $1 million from Mr. Trump’s Save America PAC.

Mr. Giuliani appears to be stretched particularly thin. He owes his longtime New York lawyer, Robert Costello, nearly $1.4 million, and does not have a lawyer in Georgia.

Last month, Mr. Costello and his firm sued Mr. Giuliani for unpaid legal bills, leading to a falling-out between the two old friends. Mr. Giuliani has also put his Upper East Side apartment up for sale and is “close to broke,” another of his lawyers, Adam Katz, said in August at a court hearing, adding that there “are a lot of bills that he’s not paying, from a $57,000 phone bill to significantly more.”

That Mr. Giuliani is in debt is not a surprise, given the avalanche of legal troubles that followed his decision to lead the effort to keep Mr. Trump in power after the 2020 election. In court filings, Mr. Costello has described three criminal investigations and 10 civil suits against his client, in addition to the House committee investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection and disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Giuliani’s law license in Washington and New York.

Weeks after Mr. Costello filed suit, both he and Mr. Giuliani were sued by Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden, for their roles in disseminating personal information said to have been taken from a laptop that the younger Mr. Biden left at a Delaware repair shop before the 2020 election.

“You know of anybody that sued me today?” Mr. Giuliani asked on a livestream after the Biden suit was filed. “I’m getting sued every day.”