Former President Donald Trump is aggressively fundraising off the FBI's seizure of confidential documents at his Mar-a-Lago home, sending a blitz of emails that urge supporters to donate to an "Official Trump Defense Fund."
The money is being solicited through a fundraising vehicle that can dump money into Donald Trump's leadership PAC, Save America, and to another fund, Make America Great Again PAC, which evolved out of his first presidential campaign.
Trump is using the criminal investigation as an opportunity to motivate his supporters to stock war chests that already have more than $100 million. He will be able to use the money in a variety of ways, including opposing his political enemies, and preserving and extending his already-firm grip on the Republican Party.
Some examples of what the former president sent to his followers in the days after the law enforcement actions include:
"What recently took place at my Mar-a-Lago home was an unprecedented infringement of the rights of every American citizen," the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee wrote on Aug. 12, which included the "Official Trump Defense Fund" logo at the bottom.
"Scam after Scam, year after year. This POLITICAL PROSECUTION is merely a continuation of Russia, Russia, Russia, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax # 2, the no collusion Mueller Report, and more," he said.
A fundraising email sent Aug. 9 had the subject line, "The Democrats broke into the home of President Donald J. Trump." The search was approved by a federal judge after the Department of Justice made a case that there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed.
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In the first 10 days since the Mar-a-Lago search, Trump and his allies sent out more than 120 emails explicitly fundraising off the raid. There were at least dozens more referring more generally to things like a "witch hunt" or the left being out to get Trump.
'Cocktail napkins, raincoats and golf balls'
The vast majority were sent by the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee. Fifteen of the emails reference an "Official Trump Defense Fund," language that is is strikingly similar to the "Official Election Defense Fund" that the House committee probing Trump's role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack said likely never existed.
The Save America Joint Fundraising Committee did not immediately reply to a question about whether there was a segregated fund for money that comes in for the "Official Trump Defense Fund" or where that money goes. Information on fundraising and spending this month will not be available until they report to the Federal Election Commission in September.
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Other fundraising emails came from the campaign arms of House Republicans and Senate Republicans, as well as funds affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
"Every single dollar raised will go directly to FIGHTING OFF the corrupt Left and their LIES," an email sent Tuesday said. On Wednesday, an email promised a 1300% match in donation amounts for one day only, with text that claimed the FBI went on "a wild goose chase looking for cocktail napkins, raincoats and golf balls from the White House."
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Not all emails explicitly say what the money will be used for, and the amount raised this month will not be disclosed with the FEC until September.
An inquiry to the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee was not immediately returned.
'Time and maybe FEC records will tell'
"There's nothing inherently wrong with profiteering off of galvanizing news - and this is obviously very galvanizing for his base - as long as it's going to the stated purpose," said Danya Perry, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.
Perry said the "Official Election Defense Fund" was a "cut and dried" case because the Jan. 6 committee determined that the money largely did not go to election litigation. "Time and maybe FEC records will tell," she said.
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She said Trump could also run into trouble if he's fundraising not off of hyperbole, but off of false statements.
A fundraising email sent Aug. 9 had subject line, "The Democrats broke into the home of President Donald J. Trump." The search was approved by a federal judge after the Department of Justice made a case that there was probable cause that a crime was committed.
Bruce Udolf, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida, said the new Official Trump Defense Fund is "entirely predictable" and raises concerns.
"If Trump's doing it, it's questionable," he said.
Daniel Weiner, a director at New York University's Brennan Center, said it's common for people across the political spectrum to use the concept that a candidate is being unfairly persecuted when asking for donations. And others have used the concept of a "fund" before.
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"This is a particular fundraising tactic that the Trump campaign has perfected," he said.
Fundraising emails promising matches are also common, and in Trump's case, Weiner said there's no indication the donations in the past have been being matched.
"It's just a fundraising tactic," Weiner said.
Ann Ravel, a Democrat who served on the Federal Election Commission, said fundraising off of Mar-a-Lago is "really unseemly."
"He is turning it into a fundraising (mechanism) and also using it probably for his purposes of politicizing it and therefore advancing his own career," Ravel said. "Which is why I think it has to be related to deciding to run again in 2024 and to rile up the base."
Trump has not filed to run for election in 2024, but allies have called for him to take another stab at the White House, and his fundraising emails regularly ask supporters if they would vote for him a third time.
Money that ends up with Save America can be spent for personal use, from clothing to defense attorneys, but cannot be turned back over to a potential campaign, Ravel said. The Make America Great Again PAC is not a leadership fund.
See the documents: Read the FBI's search warrant for Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property
Erin Chlopak, a senior director for campaign finance at the nonprofit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said the influx of fundraising emails could be "misleading at best" and "fraudulent at worst" if the donations do not in fact go to Trump's legal defense.
"There's not necessarily a specific campaign finance law that prohibits general misleading fundraising," she said, "but it's certainly a problem that we have seen for many years."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump PACs use Mar-a-Lago raid to unveil 'Official Trump Defense Fund'