President Donald Trump and his allies are opening up a host of new fronts in their war against critics and political adversaries around the country. And the result has been a bonanza for the legal profession, which is benefiting financially from the president dragging those he doesn’t like—from state governments to media outlets—into court.
Last month, the Republican National Committee made its first ever payments to the Las Vegas law firm Marquis Aurbach Coffing, which is representing the committee as it tries to beat back Democratic efforts to expand mail-in voting in the state due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2016, the firm defended the Nevada Republican Party in a lawsuit brought against the state party and the RNC that claimed Republicans, including the now-convicted felon Roger Stone, encouraged poll-watchers to intimidate voters at Nevada polling locations. That suit was dismissed after Trump won the 2016 election (though not Nevada). But with Trump now warning that expansive voting options are simply a vehicle for Democratic to steal elections, there is new business to be had.
The RNC and the state party have enlisted attorneys at Marquis Aurbach, as well as the firm Consovoy McCarthy, to intervene in a lawsuit brought by national Democrats against Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, which claims that Cegavske is disenfranchising voters by limiting the mass-mailing of absentee ballots to active voters, rather than all registered voters.
Those expenditures appear to be part of the RNC and the Trump campaign’s $10 million budget to fund litigation related to its allegations of voter fraud in key presidential swing states just this year. And the money is going well beyond Nevada.
The RNC is also now targeting California with a newly filed lawsuit going after its plans for widespread voting-by-mail in November. The lawyers representing the RNC in that case include a handful of attorneys with Consovoy McCarthy, as well as Harmeet Dhillon of the Dhillon Law Group, a former chairwoman of the California Republican Party. Her firm, like Consovoy McCarthy, first popped up in the RNC’s expenditure reports last fall.
New retainers such as those have helped make the 2020 election cycle an extremely pricey one for Trump’s and the RNC’s legal expense budget. Together, the campaign and the national party have spent about $19 million on legal services since last year—nearly half of their total legal spending since Trump first declared his presidential candidacy in 2015. Of the top 10 months for the campaign and the RNC in terms of legal expenses, eight have come in 2019 and 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The vote-by-mail lawsuits represent just one chunk of those expenditures. Trump’s re-election apparatus is going after Trump’s critics and political adversaries through a host of legal avenues. That’s resulted in a number of new names on the lists of expenditures it regularly discloses to the Federal Election Commission.
For the first time last month, for instance, the Trump campaign reported payments to the D.C. law firm Husch Blackwell, Federal Election Commission records show. Court records indicate that that firm is representing the Trump campaign in a lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station, which the campaign alleges participated in a defamation campaign against Trump by airing an ad from Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, attacking the president over his administration’s response to the coronavirus.
Husch Blackwell has some notable points of intersection with the Trump administration itself. A former partner at the firm, Mark Grider, joined the White House counsel’s office last year. In 2017, Trump nominated another former Husch Blackwell partner, Jeff Jensen, to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. Jensen led the internal Justice Department review that led to the dismissal of charges against former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn this month.
Outside of Trump’s official re-election apparatus, his largest independent supporters are also bringing on new legal muscle. America First Action, the president’s “official” super PAC, spent more than $1.2 million on legal expenses in April, representing more than half of all of its operating expenses that month.
More than a quarter million dollars of those expenses went towards a new attorney on the group’s payroll, Dallas criminal defense lawyer Daniel Hagood, FEC records show. Precisely what services Hagood is providing to the group was not immediately clear. It’s also not known what the firm Mololamken LLP is doing for America First. The super PAC paid that firm for the first time in April as well, steering it nearly $200,000.