A federal grand jury in Washington is examining the formation of — and spending by — a fundraising operation created by Donald Trump after his loss in the 2020 election as he was soliciting millions of dollars by baselessly asserting that the results had been marred by widespread voting fraud.
According to subpoenas issued by the grand jury, the contents of which were described to the New York Times, the Justice Department is interested in the inner workings of Save America PAC, Trump's main fundraising vehicle after the election. Several similar subpoenas were sent Wednesday to junior and midlevel aides who worked in the White House and for Trump's presidential campaign.
The fact that federal prosecutors are now seeking information about the fundraising operation is a significant new turn in an already sprawling criminal investigation into the roles that Trump and some of his allies played in trying to overturn the election, an array of efforts that culminated with the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The expanded Jan. 6 inquiry is playing out even as Trump is also under federal investigation on an entirely different front: his decision to hold onto hundreds of government documents marked as classified when he left office and his failure to comply with efforts by the National Archives and the Justice Department to compel their return.
On Thursday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to revisit her decision to temporarily stop prosecutors from gaining access to the classified documents for use in that investigation.
The new subpoenas related to Trump's fundraising vehicle did not make clear what possible crime or crimes the Justice Department might be investigating. The House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol and what led to it has also been examining Trump's fundraising operation and has raised questions about whether it had duped donors through misleading appeals about election fraud.
The Justice Department's Jan. 6 inquiry related to Trump has so far largely centered on a plan to create slates of electors pledged to him in seven key swing states that Joe Biden had won.
The new subpoenas appeared to have been issued by a different grand jury than the one that has been gathering evidence about the so-called fake electors plan, although the two grand juries seemed to be focused on some overlapping subjects.
The inquiry into Trump's fundraising appears to be at a relatively early stage.
Save America was officially registered with the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 9, 2020 — two days after news organizations declared Biden's victory over Trump.
Since then, it has been a key hub of an operation controlled by Trump's team that has been the dominant force in Republican low-dollar fundraising.
Save America has shared only a small portion of its bounty with candidates in contested midterm races. Instead, it has hoarded cash or used it to pay firms and groups devoted to helping Trump, including his own businesses, or to undermining his enemies.
It has brought in more than $135 million, including more than $30 million transferred from Trump's presidential campaign committee in the weeks after the election.
It has spent a little more than $36 million, leaving it with $99 million in the bank at the end of July, the most recent period covered by its monthly filings to the FEC. (The Republican National Committee had about one-third as much money in the bank at the end of July: $33.6 million.)
Among the roughly half-dozen current and former Trump aides in the White House and the 2020 presidential campaign who are said to have received subpoenas this week were William B. Harrison, an aide to Trump in the White House and after his presidency, and William S. Russell, who similarly served in the West Wing and now works for Trump's personal office, according to several people familiar with the events.
Julie Radford, who served as chief of staff to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and who was not known to have any role in any of Trump's post-election activities, also received a subpoena. Nicholas Luna, another personal aide to Trump who witnessed some of his behavior in his final weeks in office, received a subpoena as well, as did Sean Dollman, who was chief financial officer of Trump's 2020 campaign.
Radford and Luna did not respond to messages seeking comment. A lawyer for Harrison declined to comment. A lawyer for Russell did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The subpoenas sought information about communications with a range of people, many of them lawyers who were also listed on earlier subpoenas that focused on the fake elector plan. Among the lawyers appearing as subjects of interest on both sets of subpoenas were Jenna Ellis, who was part of Trump's initial legal team after the election, and Kenneth Chesebro, a Wisconsin-based lawyer who helped devise the fake elector scheme.
But at least one of the most recent subpoenas included a new name: Bruce Marks, a lawyer in Pennsylvania who had worked on efforts to challenge the results of the election there. In an email, Marks said, "It is a frightening attack on attorney-client privilege if DOJ is targeting my communications." He said that to his knowledge he had not communicated with any White House employees, though he had been in touch with Rudy Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, who were acting as lawyers for the Trump campaign and Trump.
Despite such crossovers, it remained unclear how the examination of Save America PAC intersects with the investigation of the fake electors. The electors strand of the inquiry is being led by a federal prosecutor named Thomas P. Windom. But at least one of the new subpoenas bore the name of a different federal prosecutor in Washington who specializes in fraud cases, suggesting that this avenue of inquiry is devoted primarily to examining the spending and fundraising at Trump's political action committee.
The PAC has paid more than $3.1 million to an array of law firms for "legal consulting." And it has paid salaries to a number of aides to Trump, including at least four of the new subpoena recipients: Dollman, Russell, Luna and Harrison. It has also paid lawyers Christina Bobb and Lindsey Halligan, who have been representing Trump in the classified documents investigation.
It has also paid several Trump aides who were subpoenaed to testify before the House Jan. 6 committee: former White House aide Stephen Miller and Taylor Budowich, Trump's current spokesperson, both of whom appeared before the committee; and Dan Scavino, a former White House aide who refused to comply with a subpoena.
The group donated more than $4.2 million to a pair of groups that unsuccessfully sought to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia in his primary election in May. Kemp's unwillingness to help overturn Biden's win in the 2020 election drew Trump's ire, and the Georgia governor is being compelled to testify before a special grand jury investigating election interference by Trump.
Save America also donated $1 million each to America First Policy Institute and the Conservative Partnership Institute, nonprofit groups started and run partly by former officials in Trump's administration that support stricter voting rules that generally align with Trump's unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election.
The new subpoenas cover some of the same ground as the investigators from the House select committee.
That panel has directed a team of lawyers — led by Amanda Wick, a former federal prosecutor, and known as the "Green Team" — to investigate the fundraising by Trump and his allies in addition to the financing of the rallies that preceded the violence.
The committee has issued subpoenas for bank records and testimony and questioned Trump's fundraisers.
At a committee hearing in June, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., laid out the panel's account of how Save America PAC and Trump's campaign raised $250 million after the election by claiming they were fighting widespread fraud when they knew there was none.
"Throughout the committee's investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for," Lofgren said. "So not only was there the big lie, there was the big rip-off."
The committee's investigation found that after losing the election, Trump's team appealed to donors as many as 25 times a day to aid his attempts to fight the election results in court by contributing to his "Official Election Defense Fund," even though no such fund existed.
Gary Coby, the Trump campaign's former digital director, told the committee's investigators that the fund was merely a marketing tactic.
The committee also said the Save America PAC redirected donations to other purposes, including spending more than $200,000 at Trump hotel properties. Event Strategies Inc., the company that helped organize the rally for Trump on Jan. 6, has received nearly $8.7 million from Save America, according to FEC filings.
Lofgren has criticized the fundraising by Save America and other Trump-affiliated entities as "grift."
Kitty Bennett and Luke Broadwater contributed research and reporting.