IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why prosecutors’ reported interest in Trump’s fundraising matters

Team Trump raised millions by using lies to ask donors to finance an anti-election scheme after the 2020 race. Was the Republican's grift legal?


The list of Donald Trump’s legal troubles is, to the former president’s great frustration, not at all short. At this point, Americans are aware of the ongoing criminal investigations into the Republican’s hush money scandal, alleged election interference in Georgia, alleged mishandling of classified documents, alleged role in the Jan. 6 attack, and the controversy surrounding his special purpose acquisition company.

There are also a variety of civil cases pending against the former president, including the sweeping case brought by the New York Attorney General’s Office, several lawsuits filed by police officers injured during the Jan. 6 attack, and the ongoing defamation case filed by writer E. Jean Carroll.

But let’s not overlook Trump’s controversial fundraising practices, which also appear to be a subject of great interest to prosecutors. The New York Times reported over the weekend:

As they investigate former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, federal prosecutors have also been drilling down on whether Mr. Trump and a range of political aides knew that he had lost the race but still raised money off claims that they were fighting widespread fraud in the vote results, according to three people familiar with the matter.

According to the reporting, special counsel Jack Smith and federal prosecutors are closely scrutinizing the former president’s political action committee, Save America PAC, examining whether the operation might have violated federal wire fraud statutes.

Team Trump raised $250 million by asking donors to finance a scheme to overturn the election results, even though the former president and his aides knew he lost fair and square. The underlying question is relatively straightforward: Was the grift legal?

Complicating matters, of course, is the problem of how the Republican used the money he collected from those who believed his lies: The Jan. 6 committee last year documented the fact that while Trump’s operation told prospective donors that their contributions would finance the anti-election effort, little of the money actually went to the stated cause. Indeed, Save America PAC hyped an “Official Election Defense Fund” that didn’t exist in reality.

The bipartisan House select committee referred to what transpired as the “Big Rip-Off.”

Indeed, as we discussed last fall, part of what made this jarring was the degree to which it was a scam wrapped in a 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. The former president’s supporters nevertheless sent millions of dollars.

While the Times’ reporting hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, it comes two weeks after a related Washington Post report that also said federal prosecutors are “looking to determine if former president Donald Trump or his advisers scammed donors by using false claims about voter fraud to raise money.”

Last summer Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic member of the House Jan. 6 committee, was asked about this angle to the larger controversy. “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 California congresswoman told reporters.

Lofgren added, “Now it’s for someone else to decide whether that’s criminal or not.”

Evidently, someone else is doing exactly that.

As for the former president, Trump has had plenty to say about his other legal dilemmas, peddling strange claims as part of a public-relations defense. The Republican has not, however, made much of an effort to defend his dubious fundraising schemes, despite front-page reporting about the Justice Department’s scrutiny.

Watch this space.