Defendants in the Trump Georgia case are asking for donations to cover high legal fees

Steven C. Lee, an Illinois pastor charged in the Georgia election interference case against Donald J. Trump and his allies, hopes to bolster his legal defense at least in part by selling “MAGA Honey” bottles shaped like the former to be able to finance presidents. A prominent defendant, Rudolph W. Giuliani, recently turned to a high-dollar fundraiser at Mr. Trump’s golf club in New Jersey for help paying his lawyers.

Nearly all of the 18 defendants in the case are relying on donations to cover their legal fees in a case that will take months, if not years, to fully resolve. That includes the former president himself, who has raised millions of dollars from small donors through his Save America political action committee.

Mr. Trump has frequently rejected requests for financial assistance from co-defendants in other cases against him. In the Georgia case, the amount of money the other defendants can raise could determine whether they decide to fight their charges or enter into plea agreements. They were accused of conspiring to overturn Mr. Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia.

Mr. Lee, who is accused of taking part in a harassment spree against a poll worker in Georgia, relied on a $3,500 donation from Rochelle Richardson, the pro-Trump internet personality known as Silk, after his indictment in August Atlanta to post bail his attorney David J. Shestokas.

Some third-party groups also raise funds with the stated goal of helping defendants. One such group, Defend the Electors, portrays law enforcement in Georgia as part of a Marxist conspiracy. Another group, the Illinois Family Institute, is promoting the plan to sell the bottles of honey that resemble the popular “honey bear” design. with only an effigy of Mr. Trump’s head nearby to raise money for Mr. Lee.

“You may or may not like the bottle design, but it is filled with healthy, pure, raw honey,” their website says.

One of the original 19 defendants, Scott Hall, a bail bondsman from Georgia, has already agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and others may soon decide to give in. Mr. Hall, who was implicated in a breach of election software and data at a rural election office in Georgia after Mr. Trump’s defeat, was originally charged with seven felonies; He pleaded guilty last month to five misdemeanors and was sentenced to five years probation.

The pressure to get deals done is becoming increasingly evident as the trial of two of the defendants, lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, is set to begin on October 23.

The Georgia case is unique among the four criminal cases against Mr. Trump in that it involves more than a dozen people from all walks of life. Among them are boldface names like Mr. Giuliani and Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former White House chief of staff, but also a retired high school teacher, a publicist and a former county election official, as well as the priest.

Several defendants have complained about the possible financial burden. So have some of her conservative supporters, echoing criticism of major extortion cases more commonly heard on the left.

“When you create these intentionally complex cases, part of the strategy is to make it so expensive for these people that it breaks them,” said Josh McKoon, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, which he said “hundreds of thousands” has issued. dollars to pay legal fees for three of the defendants.

Mr. Trump is in a prime position to weather an extended legal drama. Last week, as a civil fraud case against him went to trial, he used it as an opportunity to raise funds by emailing supporters to donate at least $24 to a joint fundraising committee between Save America and his presidential campaign .

His legal fees are significant. Save America paid more than $816,000 to the Drew Findling law firm, which represented Mr. Trump in Georgia until he was replaced in August by another high-paid local lawyer, Steven H. Sadow.

Other defendants have asked for donations on right-wing talk shows. Several are seeking financial help through GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising platform that was used by people involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (The Detroit News reported this week that the Michigan Attorney General’s Office obtained a search warrant in August requiring GiveSendGo to turn over information related to fake Trump voter fundraisers in Michigan, which is facing charges in that state.)

The online campaigns for the Georgia defendants are accompanied by written appeals that tend to portray them as innocent and even heroic victims. “Throughout our history, we have seen the rise of great American heroes during our country’s most difficult times,” declared a GiveSendGo page for Ms. Powell, which had raised $9,081 of a $100,000 goal as of Wednesday.

Kathryn Geesaman, 70, a bed-and-breakfast owner in Flatonia, Texas, donated $100; In an interview this month, she said she believed the allegations against Ms. Powell were baseless and said Ms. Powell and others were victims of partisan “litigation.”

“They are criminalizing doing the right thing,” Ms. Geesaman said of prosecutors in the Georgia case. “It’s terrible.”

One of Mr. Chesebro’s lawyers, Manubir S. Arora, set up a GiveSendGo page for his client, saying that Mr. Chesebro was “buried under a mountain of bills.” Mr. Chesebro is shown smiling on the beach with his hands outstretched. As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign had raised $20.

Other GiveSendGo campaigns performed better. One for Harrison Floyd, a defendant accused of being involved in harassing the poll worker, has raised $328,000. One for John Eastman, a lawyer who hatched a plan with Mr. Chesebro to get fake voters to vote for Mr. Trump, has raised $547,000.

Mr. Meadows does not appear to have a legal defense fund, although one of his allies in Congress, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, has suggested one could be coming. In 2021, according to his tax returns, Mr. Meadows earned nearly $560,000 working for the Conservative Partnership Institute, a political group; The group has received $1 million from Mr. Trump’s Save America PAC.

Mr. Giuliani appears particularly stretched thin. He owes nearly $1.4 million to his longtime New York attorney Robert Costello and doesn’t have a lawyer in Georgia.

Last month, Mr. Costello and his firm sued Mr. Giuliani over unpaid legal bills, sparking a dispute between the two old friends. Mr. Giuliani has also put his Upper East Side apartment up for sale and is “virtually broke,” another of his lawyers, Adam Katz, said at a court hearing in August, adding that there are “a lot of bills that he doesn’t have has”. Pay anything from a $57,000 phone bill to significantly more.”

That Mr. Giuliani is in debt is no surprise given the avalanche of legal problems that followed his decision to lead the effort to keep Mr. Trump in power after the 2020 election. In court filings, Mr. Costello has described three criminal investigations and 10 civil lawsuits against his client, in addition to the House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection and disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Giuliani’s law license in Washington and New York.

Weeks after Mr. Costello filed suit, both he and Mr. Giuliani were sued by Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son, over their roles in leaking personal information allegedly obtained from a laptop that the younger Mr. Biden kept at one location left a repair shop in Delaware before the 2020 election.

“Do you know anyone who sued me today?” Mr. Giuliani asked in a livestream after the Biden lawsuit was filed. “I get sued every day.”