The DOJ is investigating Trump’s money machine, the ‘big rip off'

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The Jan. 6 committee called Trump’s money machine a ‘big rip off.’ Now the DOJ is investigating.

Federal investigators probing efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election have reportedly set their sights on a new target: Donald Trump’s primary postelection fundraising powerhouse.

Trump created the entity, Save America PAC, days after losing his reelection bid. By July, the group had cleared more than $130 million in donations, much of it from appeals premised on Trump’s false narrative that the election results were not credible.

This week, a federal grand jury has reportedly issued subpoenas to multiple aides to the former president seeking information about Trump’s Save America PAC, according to an ABC News report Thursday.

The PAC has paid out millions to political allies of the former president and their lawyers. Many of the beneficiaries were involved in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of his election loss, and several have been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Prosecutors seek info about attorneys

“I think it’s big news,” said Adav Noti, senior vice president of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, an election watchdog group. “There’s been a clear financial angle to this all along. And it has always seemed to me that it’s been under-investigated.”

Roughly a half-dozen Trump aides, both current and former, have received subpoenas this week from a Washington grand jury, the New York Times reported.

The grand jury reportedly subpoenaed Trump’s former assistant for operations William B. Harrison, former special assistant to the president William S. Russell, former Ivanka Trump aide Julie Radford, former Trump personal aide Nicholas Luna and Trump 2020 campaign chief financial officer Sean Dollman, according to the New York Times. Harrison, Russell, Luna and Dollman have received salary payments from the PAC, the Times reported Friday.

The subpoenas reportedly ask about a range of Trump attorneys including election lawyers Jenna Ellis and Kenneth Chesebro, and at least one mentioned Bruce Marks, a lawyer who aided efforts to challenge electoral results in Pennsylvania, the Times reported. “I think it’s troubling that the U.S. government would be seeking communications which might be privileged with a campaign lawyer,” Marks told Grid. “I don’t know anything about that committee. I never worked for the committee. … If they’re for some reason investigating that committee, I, again, don’t know why they would be seeking communications with me.” Ellis and Chesebro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The grand jury issuing the subpoenas is reportedly distinct from one that has issued subpoenas in connection to a DOJ probe into a scheme to overturn the 2020 election using fake electors. The FBI on Thursday declined to comment to Grid on the reported subpoenas. Trump’s office and Saving America PAC did not immediately respond to questions.

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PAC was focus of June hearing

The subpoenas are the latest development in an array of state and federal investigations centered on the ex-president. State and federal investigators are examining Trump’s role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the financial practices of his private business, and his failure to relinquish control of highly sensitive and classified government records after leaving office.

The Jan. 6 committee probed Save America PAC and made it a focus of a June hearing. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., alleged Trump used “false claims of election fraud to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from supporters, who were told their donations were for the legal fight in the courts, but the Trump campaign didn’t use the money for that.”

The Jan. 6 committee presented evidence at that hearing that the Trump campaign used millions of fundraising emails to encourage small-dollar donors to contribute to the “Official Election Defense Fund” — which did not exist. Most of that money went to Save America PAC.

“The Big Lie,” Lofgren said at the June hearing, “was also a big rip off.”

The vast majority of the money raised by Save America PAC remains at Trump’s disposal. The committee had only spent $36.1 million from its founding until the end of the last reporting period on July 31, when it reported having $99 million cash in-hand, according to FEC records.

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Paying legal fees for Trump and allies

Trump has used Save America to pay legal fees to attorneys including Christina Bobb, Lindsey Halligan, and the law firm employing M. Evan Corcoran, who represents Trump as well as former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. Those lawyers have represented Trump in the Mar-a-Lago document case. The PAC has also sent payments to law firms representing former Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino.

Bannon, Scavino and Navarro have declined to testify before the House panel; Bannon and Navarro have faced contempt charges because of that choice. A jury convicted Bannon on contempt charges in July, which the former adviser is appealing.

Save America PAC has also given $8.7 million to Event Strategies Inc., which planned the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

$1 million to election denier’s hub

One particular transaction had previously drawn scrutiny: a July 2021 donation of $1 million from Trump’s PAC to the Conservative Partnership Institute. CPI has become a major hub for figures involved in the Jan. 6 plot and has started roughly a dozen MAGA-friendly spinoff groups. Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who is fighting a subpoena to testify before the Jan. 6 committee, is a senior adviser to the group. A CPI spinoff, the Election Integrity Network, is run by former Trump election lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who was also called to testify by the Jan. 6 committee.

The timing of the PAC’s gift aligns closely with a couple key developments: First, it came three weeks after the House voted to establish the Jan. 6 committee. Second, it came three days before CPI’s Mitchell directed donations totaling $1 million to groups involved in the Arizona election audit, according to emails sent by Mitchell.


On July 28, just two days after Trump’s PAC transferred the million dollars to CPI, a new organization called the American Voting Rights Foundation (AVRF) was registered in Delaware. That day, Mitchell wrote an email to Thomas Datwyler, whom she identified as the group’s treasurer; Doug Logan, CEO of the Florida-based firm that was retained by the Arizona State Senate to conduct an audit of the election; and Logan’s associate, Randy Pullen. Mitchell’s email indicated that AVRF was going to make a major donation to Arizona’s audit efforts.

“Tom — Randy and Doug are sending invoices to wire $ to some AZ entities from American Voting Rights Foundation,” Mitchell wrote in the email, which was obtained via public records request by the watchdog group American Oversight. “Randy / Doug — Tom is the treasurer of AVRF who’s going to send the $ to the vendors you’ve approved. … Can you please work with Tom to get the funds out today where the funds need to be sent?”

Mitchell sent a second email the next day indicating the American Voting Rights Foundation had transferred $1 million to three different groups: $500,000 to CyFir, a digital forensics company involved in the audit; $250,000 to “Stratech” (an apparent reference to a company named StratTech Solutions that was involved in the audit); and $250,000 to lawyer Scott Sigman, “who will take responsibility for disbursing funds to individuals who have been working on the audit.”

Grid could not determine whether the $1 million contribution from Save America PAC to CPI was related to the donations directed by Mitchell or if either are areas of interest to federal investigators. Mitchell, CPI, Datwyler, CyFir, Sigman and StratTech Solutions did not immediately respond to questions for this report.

While it’s not clear what about Trump’s PAC drew prosecutors’ attention, Campaign Legal Center’s Noti said news of the subpoenas was welcome, if unexpected. “If there’s going to be a serious investigation into those issues, that needs to come out of the Department of Justice — which has lots of other things on its plate,” he said. “It’s ultimately very good for the nation to know that there’s a cop on the beat.”

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Steve Reilly
    Steve Reilly

    Investigative Reporter

    Steve Reilly is an investigative reporter for Grid focusing on threats to democracy.

  • Maggie Severns
    Maggie Severns

    Domestic Policy Reporter

    Maggie Severns is a policy reporter for Grid covering complex policy stories and major headlines.