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Trump’s New Legal Bills Are Hiding an $8 Million Mystery

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Donald Trump’s legal payroll is easily the largest and most diverse of any political figure in modern U.S. history. But while most of the attorneys that Trump’s various fundraising committees have paid over the years are a matter of public record, one of the top recipients still poses a mystery—with more than $8 million in legal costs going to an unknown firm, or firms, through what appears to be a corporate intermediary.

Legal experts told The Daily Beast that the arrangement masks the true recipients of a significant amount of Trump’s legal bills, depriving the public of that information while possibly running afoul of federal law. And the unprecedented structure of those payments, the experts said, potentially violates the ban on corporate contributions.

For the last 15 months, five of Trump’s political committees, including his 2024 campaign, have paid about $8 million in combined legal costs to a curious recipient: Red Curve Solutions, the firm that handles their political accounting.

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That total makes Red Curve, a prominent Republican compliance firm, the largest single recipient of Trump’s legal payouts since he left office, receiving more money than die-hard defenders like Alina Habba, Stefan Passantino, John Lauro, and Jesse Binnall.

The Red Curve payments, however, are not described as being for legal services that the firm provides directly. In fact, Red Curve’s website does not advertise legal services, and Federal Election Commission filings show that only one other federal committee has ever paid the company for legal work—and that was more than a decade ago.

Instead, the payments are described in FEC filings as “reimbursements” for legal expenses and fees. The filings suggest that Red Curve is at least, in part, functioning as a financial hub for a legal expense cost-sharing agreement between these various Trump committees.

The payment descriptions suggest that since December 2022, when the arrangement seemed to begin, Red Curve has been fronting legal costs out of its corporate account, with Trump’s committees repaying the company later. According to campaign finance experts, this setup appears to flout federal rules requiring the disclosure of vendors, with Red Curve’s advance payments also raising the prospect of corporate in-kind contributions.

Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance specialist and deputy executive director of Documented, said the reimbursement arrangement deprives the public of critical information and appears to violate federal law.

“This appears illegal for two reasons,” Fischer told The Daily Beast, citing potential violations of disclosure requirements and the corporate contribution ban.

“When a campaign makes a reimbursement, it must report the payment to the person being reimbursed, and also itemize the underlying vendor,” Fischer said, pointing to FEC rules on candidate disclosures. The Red Curve reimbursements don’t provide that itemization, and it’s unclear which lawyers Trump is ultimately paying through the scheme.

“The second,” Fischer continued, “is that these transactions may have resulted in Red Curve making illegal corporate contributions to Trump’s committees.”

He explained that the FEC treats advances on payments as in-kind contributions, which are subject to contribution limits and other restrictions, depending on the type of committee. None of the Trump committees can accept donations from corporate entities.

“Red Curve is a corporation, so cannot lawfully make an advance to Trump’s hard money committees, even if later reimbursed,” Fischer said.

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media as he exits the courtroom for the day at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media as he exits the courtroom for the day at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Photo by Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images

The Daily Beast sent questions to Red Curve and a Trump campaign spokesperson, but did not receive a reply.

One of Trump’s committees appears to have made disproportionate Red Curve payments—Trump’s old campaign committee, which he converted to “Make America Great Again PAC” upon leaving office. Since December 2022, Red Curve legal reimbursements have comprised more than $5.1 million of roughly $10.3 million in MAGA PAC’s legal costs.

The payment arrangement is also ongoing. Nearly $900,000 of Trump’s legal expenses this year have gone to Red Curve, with more than $390,000 reimbursed last month alone.

The opacity is of particular concern in this election, where Trump’s legal woes are front and center, as is the money that those cases have sucked up—nearly $100 million in attorney costs so far, which Trump donors have footed at the expense of bulking up a political war chest for his campaign and the Republican Party.

Notably, Trump has used those donations not just to pay for his own representation, but also more controversially to provide lawyers for an array of witnesses and co-defendants. The Red Curve legal reimbursements would be a convenient way to conceal the names of unknown firms representing Trump or his allies.

Regardless of who benefits from the services, however, the costs are steep. The $8 million in Red Curve reimbursements represent the largest amount that Trump’s committees have paid to any single law firm since he left office.

One potential exception, however, is former Florida solicitor general Christopher Kise, whose personal firm’s roughly $5.8 million from Trump is beefed up with the $3 million retainer that Kise reportedly negotiated through another firm when he agreed to take Trump as a client in September 2022.

Kise—who represented Trump in his failed New York civil fraud battle and currently anchors the Mar-a-Lago documents defense team—has also worked at another firm with significant Trump overlap: Continental PLLC. Continental has separately racked up about $6.1 million from Trump since he left office, and the firm belonging to Trump’s New York fraud defender, Clifford Roberts, has received about $7.7 million in that time frame. (The firm is currently owed another $816,000.)

While the motivation behind the opaque payments is unknown, it’s clear that there is a cost-splitting arrangement between Trump’s various fundraising committees.

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FEC records show that pairs of Trump PACs frequently reimburse Red Curve on the same date, in the same amounts. And while many of the payments are identical twins—exact dollar figures, down to the penny, on the same day—there are also a number that are fraternal twins, where the payments are nearly the same and made within a few days of each other.

For instance, on March 14, 2023, Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC—the committee that doubles as his personal legal slush fund—reported a “reimbursement for legal expenses” to Red Curve in the amount of $45,867.44. Two days later, another Trump PAC, called “Make America Great Again PAC” (MAGA PAC), reported paying Red Curve the exact same amount, with the same description: $45,867.44, for “reimbursement for legal expenses.”

In all, The Daily Beast identified at least 21 pairs of these identical or near-identical reimbursements from different Trump committees, made within close proximity of each other.

That’s not always the case. The same day that MAGA PAC made the above matching payment—March 16, 2023—it also reported an additional two Red Curve reimbursements. These were described as “reimbursement for legal fees” and totaled nearly $910,000, but they don’t appear to have any immediately clear correlation to other Red Curve payments at the time.

Campaign finance experts agreed that the pattern suggests these Trump committees, for some unknown reason, have been sharing legal costs. But the payment reports don’t identify the entity or entities that Red Curve initially paid to perform the legal work on Trump’s behalf. And that, the experts said, could pose a problem—because it hides the true vendor and recipient of the funds.

Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs at good government watchdog Common Cause, agreed with Fischer’s assessment that the payments may violate reporting and corporate contribution laws.

“By a legal sleight of hand, it appears that Trump world is trying to hide the true recipients of these donations,” Scherb told The Daily Beast. He noted that corporations aren’t allowed to donate directly to these committees, and that corporations can’t reimburse contributors. The payments, Scherb said, must be “thoroughly investigated to ensure that all entities and individuals are complying with the law.”

“Shenanigans like this are reason #1000 why we need the DISCLOSE Act, which Senate Republicans have blocked at least five times in the last several years,” Scherb added.

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also told The Daily Beast that the rules are clear about this reporting requirement.

“If it’s going to a vendor, that vendor needs to be disclosed,” Libowitz said. “You can’t pass the money through to hide the eventual destination.”

The 2020 Trump campaign pushed this rule to the absolute limit—potentially even beyond. That campaign enlisted a pass-through scheme that routed vendor payments through a single shell company, obscuring the recipients of nearly $800 million. And while the FEC commissioners issued a bipartisan ruling in 2022 against Hillary Clinton’s campaign for a hidden vendor maneuver, the FEC’s Republican commissioners let the Trump campaign slip the hook one month later.

The Red Curve arrangement, however, has no other parallel in FEC records.

Of the 252 legal reimbursement payments in FEC historical data, 118 of them—nearly half—have come from the Trump committees to Red Curve in the last 15 months. Combined, the 134 non-Trump reimbursements account for less than $550,000. Meanwhile, the Trump reimbursements add up to nearly 15 times that amount—just over $8 million.

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While Red Curve is one of the preeminent compliance firms for GOP campaigns and PACs, the firm doesn’t have a public history of legal work. Its website promotes a number of services—including accounting, data management, budget analysis, and payroll and tax solutions—but not legal counsel. Again, this is backed up in FEC records, which show that, before the Trump arrangement, Red Curve only received legal payments from one other federal committee—the Republican National Committee—a run of small monthly expenses back in 2012 and 2013.

As for Trumpworld, Red Curve is the only entity that Trump groups have ever reimbursed for legal fees—with one exception: a $17,318 payment on Feb. 11, 2022, to one “Shelly Lipkis,” who staffs a company called “New Age Consulting” that does not appear to be a law firm.

It’s unclear why these Trump committees chose Red Curve as the clearinghouse for such a substantial portion of legal spending—nearly 9 percent of Trump’s legal expenses since he left office. The timing, however, aligns with a few key and potentially relevant political events.

According to The Daily Beast’s analysis of FEC data, the arrangement started on Dec. 7, 2022. On that date, Red Curve received its first legal reimbursements from three of Trump’s political committees—“Save America” (his leadership PAC), “Make America Great Again PAC” (his old 2020 campaign committee), and “Trump Save America” (a joint committee between Save America and Trump’s 2024 campaign).

That day, all three committees reported two Red Curve payments, one for $10,000 and one for $25,000, described as “reimbursement for legal fees.” (One payment, from MAGA PAC, was $10,027.67.) Nine days later, those three committees were joined by “Trump Make America Great Again”—another joint group, this one featuring Save America, Trump’s old campaign, and the Republican National Committee—which also paid a flat $25,000. Then, in January and February, the first three committees made another cluster of three $10,000 payments.

The flat amounts suggest that these first expenses relate to initial retainer fees. None of the committees have paid Red Curve a flat amount since then.

At the time, Trumpworld was reeling from a number of legal battles.

First, the House’s Jan. 6 Committee was wrapping up its investigation into the Capitol attack, preparing to release its report along with criminal referrals. The report revealed, among other things, that star witness Cassidy Hutchinson had testified that her Trump-provided lawyer, Stefan Passantino, pressured her to risk contempt charges in order to protect the former president.

However, Trump committee payments to Passantino’s firm, Elections LLC, weren’t interrupted. (Last month, a legal ethics panel dismissed a complaint against Passantino in the matter.)

But the Jan. 6 Committee did refer another lawyer for prosecution, asking the Justice Department to bring charges against John Eastman, the fringe constitutional lawyer who helped craft the bogus legal theory that Trump and his allies leaned on to justify their attempts to overturn the Electoral College.

Also notable is the fact that the Red Curve arrangement took hold less than a month after Trump announced his 2024 candidacy.

That official declaration triggered federal regulations that forced Trump’s team to rearrange its flotilla of committees and joint groups, cutting some ties while drawing new ones. Most specifically, Trump’s status as an active candidate meant that his “Trump Save America” joint fundraising committee had to cut loose Trump’s old campaign—by that time known as MAGA PAC—in order to add his new 2024 campaign.

To that point, there is one other Trump outlier—his 2024 campaign committee, which reported just two Red Curve reimbursements. Both payments came in July 2023—in the weeks between Trump’s first federal indictment in the stolen documents case and the second superseding indictment. The payments totaled $28,275.

As it turns out, legal costs have been particularly devastating to the hamstrung MAGA PAC. The committee would have gone belly-up last month if Save America—itself buckling under the weight of Trump’s army of lawyers—hadn’t transferred a total $780,000 MAGA PAC’s way, a rare scoop out of Trump’s precious personal legal stash.

Of that amount, MAGA PAC put more than $698,000 towards legal costs. Nearly $275,000 went to reimburse Red Curve.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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