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Why it matters that Trump’s ‘Election Defense Fund’ didn’t exist

After his defeat, Donald Trump urged his supporters to contribute to an Election Defense Fund. The trouble is, there was no actual Election Defense Fund.


Among Donald Trump’s worst qualities is the frequency with which the former president has tried to rip off those who’ve put their trust in him. Indeed, the Republican developed some expertise in this area, running both a fraudulent charitable foundation and a fraudulent “university” that was designed to rip off its “students.”

All of this came to mind this morning, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack held its second hearing, which covered a lot of ground, including a review of how Trump and his team used their election lies to separate the then-president’s followers from their money. NBC News reported:

Committee investigators also traced the money Trump and his allies raised from small donors by stoking election fraud fears, which they said totaled more than $250 million. And while the money was billed as going to “The Official Election Defense Fund,” two Trump campaign staffers testified that the fund did not actually exist and was just a “marketing” tactic.

As one former Trump campaign staffer told the bipartisan congressional committee, “I don’t believe there is actually a fund called the 'Election Defense Fund.'"

And where, pray tell, did this quarter of a billion dollars go? Some of the money helped pay for Trump’s pre-riot rally just south of the White House on Jan. 6, but the bulk of the money went to the former president’s new super PAC.

Part of what makes this jarring is the degree to which it’s a fraudulent scam wrapped in a fraudulent scam: Trump started with a lie — the election results were illegitimate — and then added another lie on top of it, by telling those who believed the first lie to go grab their wallets and contribute to Election Defense Fund that had nothing to do with defending elections.

It also created a perverse set of incentives: The moment the Republican stopped lying was the moment donors stopped sending him money, which not surprisingly encouraged Trump to keep the con going.

But there’s also a legal dimension to this: Aren’t there laws against unscrupulous conmen launching fraudulent scams?

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic member of the Jan. 6 committee, was asked about this after this morning’s proceedings. “It’s clear that he intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn’t exist and used the money raised for something other than what he said,” the congresswoman told reporters.

 Lofgren added, “Now it’s for someone else to decide whether that’s criminal or not. That’s not the purview of a legislative committee.”

It was against this backdrop that Attorney General Merrick Garland confirmed this morning that he’s watching the committee hearings. He added, “And I can assure you that the Jan. 6 prosecutors are watching all the hearings.”