When the Jan. 6 Committee released its final report last month, it referred multiple criminal charges to the Justice Department, but one key focus of that investigation was relegated to an appendix: the possible fraud case related to the hundreds of millions of dollars that Donald Trump and his allies raised off “the Big Lie.”
While it’s unclear why the committee tucked this part of the investigation into an appendix, it’s not for lack of smoke. The DOJ reportedly folded the investigation into its larger Jan. 6 probe months ago, with CNN reporting in December that Special Counsel Jack Smith would be continuing that work.
But the strength of the case, which The Daily Beast laid out in July, is also clear from the report itself. While not directly alleging criminal activity, the appendix—titled “The Big Rip-Off: Follow The Money”—lays out in great detail what was already a compelling constellation of facts about what campaign officials knew about those fundraising efforts. And the report also lays out how that money was eventually spent.
Jordan Libowitz, communications director for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was stunned at the overall amount raised—about $250 million, all told.
“It really stands out how lucrative it was for Team Trump to deny the election loss,” Libowitz said. “That’s really counterintuitive, because why would you give money for an election that was over? It only makes sense if you truly believe this will change the outcome of the election. He was essentially grifting his donors.”
Congressional investigators agreed, concluding that Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election “served a dual purpose.” While Trump and his allies peddled inaccurate claims to convince supporters to back their attempts to reverse the election defeat, the report says, they exploited those same claims to raise money, “misleading donors into thinking their donations could alter the election results.”
But the vast majority of that fundraising did not go to those efforts. Instead, the report says, it went “to fund the former President’s other endeavors and to enrich his associates,” a switcheroo the report refers to as “the Big Rip-off.”
“In short, President Trump and his Campaign ripped off supporters by raising more than $250 million by claiming they wanted to fight fraud they knew did not exist and to challenge an election they knew he lost,” the report says.
Investigators also implicated top campaign staff and the Republican National Committee, which partnered with the Trump campaign on these fundraising efforts, saying “the RNC knew” Trump’s claims had no basis in fact, and that no amount of money would change the election’s outcome.
The Trump-RNC fundraising hub was a joint vehicle called “Trump Make America Great Again Committee”—referred to internally as TMAGAC (pronounced “T-Magic”). The RNC and Trump campaign were so tightly knit in 2020 that they shared staff and office space in Arlington, Virginia. By the end of the year, the report says, the operation employed 20 or 30 people across multiple teams, for copywriting, text messages, analytics, advertising, and graphics.
The Trump machine blasted out hundreds of different fundraising appeals in the months between the election and Jan. 6, sometimes hitting up supporters more than two dozen times a day. According to the report, the copywriters drew inspiration from the real world, “watching the messaging coming out of [the RNC] and the campaign and from the President himself and what his family was talking about.”
As one copywriter put it, Trump “was providing us [the copywriters] with a lot of content online.” One writer said she’d even been directly instructed to cop Trump’s language, which she was told would motivate supporters to open up their checkbooks by “giving a purpose to their donation.”
Those claims quickly grew problematic, even within Trumpworld.
The TMAGAC fundraising copy could not go out without approval from legal, communications, and research teams. But those groups passed the buck about who was ultimately responsible.
According to committee transcripts, top officials internally expressed concerns about Trump’s claims of a stolen election, which they knew to be inaccurate. In response, investigators found, the TMAGAC team—which had approval processes in place—began to make something of an effort to curb the incendiary language in their emails. But no one seemed to want to take responsibility before the committee.
While members of the digital fundraising team told investigators that they understood TMAGAC’s Approvals Group to be “a guardrail of sorts” against spreading false claims about the election, in reality, the Approvals Group “served no such role,” according to the report.
“The very staffers in the Approvals Group repeatedly told the Select Committee that they did not review the claims about election fraud to confirm whether they were even true,” the report says, with members of different teams pointing the finger at each other.
Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon told House investigators he was “so bothered by the emails he was reviewing as a member of the Approvals Group” that he discussed the matter with deputy campaign manager Justin Clark. Cannon, who had researched Trump’s fraud claims, said he told Clark the emails “seemed a little over the top” and “inconsistent with the fact that systemic fraud did not exist,” the report notes.
But Cannon also claimed he had only reviewed emails for “compliance issues like disclaimers and typos,” saying he “did not know who was tasked with ensuring that fundraising emails were true and accurate.”
Cannon, who also brought those concerns to campaign general counsel Matt Morgan, told investigators that “he was not aware of any actions taken to address the concerns he had with this inconsistency.” And Clark said that he “could not recall whether he looked at any fundraising emails after Cannon raised these concerns.”
(The report also notes that one copywriter who expressed concern about fundraising text was fired about three weeks after the 2020 election.)
Instead, the report states that the evidence shows that the RNC and TMAGAC team “walked as close to the line as they dared,” making changes to minimize the RNC’s legal exposure “while still spreading and relying on President Trump’s known lies and misrepresentations.”
Cannon also told investigators that he helped create a private company called DataPier, so the campaign could maintain access to its valuable email list in the event of any rupture with the RNC, which had control of the data. But the inflammatory content of those solicitations soon began to be met with pushback from one vendor, while a larger vendor, Salesforce, let the emails sail through.
As the Jan. 6 attack unfolded, Cannon said in a committee interview, the campaign shut down the emails, and its lists went cold. In recent months, as Trump mounted a fundraising drive ahead of his re-election announcement, his Save America PAC shelled out millions of dollars for access to donor lists—an expense unlike any it had seen previously.
In the three days after the election, the Trump campaign and RNC racked up more than $100 million, claiming to raise the money for something they called the “Official Election Defense Fund.” The small problem? Witnesses told investigators that the “Official Election Defense Fund” did not exist; it was just “a marketing tactic.”
As it turns out, the report says, the “Trump campaign was raising too much money to spend solely on their legal efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” Yet, they continued to raise more. And since federal law limited campaign spending to recount efforts, debt retirement, and other election expenses, they created Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC and linked it to TMAGAC’s fundraising efforts—and began directing most of the money its way. (Trump son-in-law and then senior adviser Jared Kushner “had the most interest in the digital program,” the report says.)
Notably, while the leadership PAC allowed Trump to keep the money and apply it to a wide range of expenses, it was not permitted to spend more than $5,000 on recount and election-related costs—the very thing they were asking supporters to fund. Ultimately, Save America spent exactly zero dollars on those things.
Two years later, most of that money still hasn’t been spent. But Save America has paid out millions of dollars to a combination of Trump-related entities, allied groups, and 2020 staff, in addition to covering legal costs related to the Jan. 6 investigation.
And Trump’s old campaign, which he converted into “Make America Great Again PAC” after leaving the White House, has since reported paying millions of dollars to a company called 2M Document Management & Imaging LLC. But while the PAC’s filings claimed those payments were for “Recount” and “Recount: Research Consulting,” investigators discovered the money was primarily for document production related to congressional subpoenas from the COVID subcommittee and the Jan. 6 Select Committee itself.
“Federal campaign finance law requires committees to accurately report information related to expenditures, including the purpose of payments,” the report says.
“You can’t look at this through a political lens, you have to look at it through the Trump lens,” Libowitz said. “What does Trump want personally? That’s what this appears set up to do.”
But there might be a political lens after all.
Save America wasn’t just prohibited from funding Trump’s post-election efforts—it also can’t bankroll his 2024 bid. But in recent months, Save America has transferred tens of millions of dollars—some of it raised on the back of the Big Lie—to a new super PAC tied to Trump.