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Trump's Georgia co-defendants may have millions in legal expenses — who will foot the bill?

Judge denies motion in Trump-Georgia hearing
Judge denies motion to sever co-defendant's case in Trump-Georgia hearing 05:55

Former President Donald Trump wielded his political clout to help his former personal attorney — and criminal co-defendant — Rudy Giuliani — by hosting a fundraiser for him Thursday. The event was expected to offer a lavish display of loyalty, as Trump rounds up donors willing to give $100,000 each to a legal defense fund for Giuliani, who has racked up millions in legal bills from defamation lawsuits stemming from the 2020 presidential election.

Tickets for the fundraiser Thursday at Trump's Bedminster club went for $100,000 a seat. Giuliani's son, Andrew Giuliani, told WABC Radio that the event was expected to bring in over $1 million and said Trump said he would host another fundraiser for Giuliani at Mar-a-Lago in the fall or winter. The younger Giuliani said it would be "very helpful," but "won't be enough to get through this."

But for 17 other Trump co–defendants in the Georgia criminal conspiracy case against the former president, it remains to be seen whether Trump will step in with any financial help. For now, most have been left to figure out how to pay for their own criminal defense regarding their alleged scheme to help keep him in office, according to a number of people familiar with the case. All of the defendants face the same charge of racketeering under Georgia law, in addition to other charges involving alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trial work comes with high price tag

One expert in the state's RICO laws suggested those co-defendants face some challenges in getting any financial help from Trump and his campaign.

"Georgia RICO charges are exceedingly hard to finance a defense for under any circumstances, but here Trump not only has state proceedings to litigate but also a potential removal effort in federal court," says Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis. "And with PAC cash being a finite resource, diverting funds toward a legal defense necessarily takes away from something else. It will likely get very costly and undermine political work that might have a larger budget but for the diverted cash."

Legal bills tend to pile up in stages over the course of a criminal case, from pre-indictment counsel to post-indictment representation – which can include motions preparation and discovery analysis — to the time spent preparing and executing a defense strategy at trial.  

Noah Pines, a Georgia defense attorney, offered this estimate: lawyers who may charge $100,000 per month for 80-hour work weeks during trial are only making about $312 an hour, a sum he says would be insufficient if he were taking on a RICO case like this.

Multiply that by 19 — the number of defendants in the case — and the monthly costs spiral.

During a trial, criminal defense attorneys on average put in about 40 hours a week in court, plus another 40 to 60 hours during that same week preparing for the what's next. Pines compares the stamina of the lawyers who try cases like this to extreme athletes. 

"You are running a marathon every week over and over and over again in a case that's going to last four months, six months is just even beyond that," Pines said of RICO trials. 

The defense bills for the case in Fulton County could easily reach into the millions, according to several defense attorneys who spoke with CBS News.

Prosecutors said they expect the trial of all 19 defendants to take approximately four months, and that timeline excludes the jury selection process. At least 150 witnesses are expected to be called to testify. 

For Trump, who has pleaded not guilty in all four criminal prosecutions against him, cases are taking place concurrently, and several investigations are still underway, not to mention the raft of civil matters involving the former president. But unlike others who have found themselves in these legal crosshairs, Trump is able to rely on his personal fortune or his political war chest to shoulder the mountain of legal expenses.

Trump co-defendants getting help from Trump-associated Save America PAC

The real-estate tycoon turned politician has collected an array of co-defendants along the way. In Florida, he has been charged along with two of his employees, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, for their roles in the case stemming from Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents after his presidency, for which they have both pleaded not guilty. Nauta's defense team is currently being at least in part funded by a Trump-associated PAC which has paid his legal bills throughout the investigation, CBS News confirmed. An attorney for Nauta declined to comment. Attorneys for De Oliveira declined to comment.

Trump has played a role in defraying the legal bills that are piling up not just for himself, but also for allies and aides who have been embroiled in legal trouble. He has been raising money through his political action committee, Save America, and it has helped fund counsel for witnesses before the House Jan. 6 select committee and federal grand jury investigations, in addition to Nauta's defense. 

Trump-related legal fees paid by Save America PAC and Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc.

Save America disclosed in its mid-year FEC filing over the summer that it spent $21.6 million on Trump-related legal fees in the first half of 2023. A figure that dominated the majority of the approximately $25 million the PAC spent overall within that period. However, a source familiar with the PAC's spending said before the midyear filing that Save America had actually spent more than $40 million on legal fees for Trump and his allies on multiple legal cases in the first six months of 2023.

In July, longtime Trump adviser Michael Glassner, announced the creation of a new legal defense fund whose mission is to pay the legal bills for Trump and his family, as well as his allies and staffers, called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc. The site is currently marketing Trump's mugshot by selling merchandise of the image and the words "NEVER SURRENDER!" and "NOT GUILTY!" on shirts, bumper stickers and coffee cups. It is unclear how much that fund has already raised because it is not required to make the same disclosures as political committees do, and whether any of that money has been disbursed among the Georgia defendants has also not been disclosed.

Given the financial burden these cases impose, Trump may not have the ability to support his 18 co-defendants in Georgia. In an August 12 post on Truth Social he blamed Democrats for causing "the Trump Campaign to spend vast amounts of money on legal fees."

Rudy Giuliani's legal battles

Trump is not the only defendant in Georgia fighting multiple legal battles. Giuliani is facing several civil challenges of his own and was recently found liable for defaming two Fulton County election workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss. While the cost of damages in that case has yet to be determined, the judge ordered Giuliani to reimburse Freeman and Moss for more than $89,000 in attorney fees and costs related to a request that the court force Giuliani to fulfill his discovery obligations. Giuliani also must ensure his eponymous businesses cover more than $43,000 in attorneys' fees associated with an effort to force them to respond to requests for documents and depositions, the judge said.

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani speaks to the media after leaving the Fulton County jail on August 23, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.  / Getty Images

Noting Giuliani's excuses, the judge wrote that although he claimed that "he is having financial difficulties" Giuliani has not "provided any evidence about his inability to reimburse plaintiff."

One confidante familiar with his legal problems said that in August, Giuliani was experiencing financial  issues. Giuliani appears poised to raise money by selling his long-time New York apartment, currently listed for $6.5 million. 

Some experts say that while the Bedminster fundraiser Trump hosted may not violate any rules from a campaign finance standpoint, it does raise some flags.

"Helping Rudy in some sense, does help Trump," said Richard Briffault, the Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation at Columbia University. He says that while those contributions to Trump's legal defense fund would not be subject to any spending limits or public disclosures that would be required for campaign committees, there are some ethical concerns. "Trump will be aware of [the contributions] and he could be grateful to the donors. And should he become president again, that gratitude could be translated into government decisions."

Georgia co-defendants turn to crowdfunding for help

Former Trump attorney and current Georgia co-defendant, Jenna Ellis has been vocal about the financial strain that comes with being a defendant. "I was reliably informed Trump isn't funding any of us who are indicted," she wrote in a post on X. "Would this change if he becomes the nominee? Why then, not now? I totally agree this has become a bigger principle than just one man. So why isn't MAGA, Inc. funding everyone's defense?"

Ellis is one of several co-defendants in Georgia who has begun crowdfunding to raise money for legal expenses. As of this posting, Ellis' GiveSendGo page, which says she "is being targeted and the government is trying to criminalize the practice of law," has raised more than $197,000 through the site. 

Another co-defendant, Harrison Floyd, was the only defendant to spend time behind bars after surrendering  after turning himself in to the Fulton County jail without a pre-negotiated bond. Floyd, a former Marine who was the director of Black Voices for Trump, asked for a public defender because he said that he could not afford his own legal representation. 

After his release from jail, Floyd joined Steve Bannon on his program "The War Room," which promoted a crowdfunding effort for Floyd that has raised more than $298,000, with a goal of  $350,000. "I'm looking forward to being down here and fighting the devil in Georgia," Floyd said. 

All 19 defendants in the Georgia case have entered not guilty pleas. As the case enters its next phase, CBS News reached out to the attorneys for each of the defendants in Georgia about whether they are relying on the Trump PACs or other methods of financing to fund their defense.

Jeffrey Clark, one of the 19 Fulton County defendants, has raised over  $60,000, with a goal of $500,000 through his crowdfunding efforts. A spokesperson did not comment beyond sharing a link to his donation page.

An attorney for Robert Cheeley, who is alleged to have encouraged Georgia state lawmakers to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors among other accusations,  said his client is not receiving any financial support from Trump's PACs, defense fund,  or any other crowdfunding mechanism. 

Robert Legare contributed to reporting.

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