Former President Donald Trump’s political action committee has paid more than $120,000 to a law firm representing multiple witnesses before the Jan. 6 committee, as well as, more recently, the Justice Department investigation into the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., according to a Yahoo News review of campaign finance reports.
It is not clear what the payments are for, but any evidence of a financial tie between Trump’s Save America PAC and the law firm could pose problems for Justice Department prosecutors seeking to obtain cooperation from witnesses in the Mar-a-Lago probe, according to legal experts.
A review of campaign finance disclosures shows that Save America has made two payments — one for $95,525 in February of this year and the other for $25,000 in October 2021 — to the law firm of the criminal defense lawyer Stanley Woodward. Woodward and his law partner, Stanley Brand, the former chief counsel to the House under then-Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, have represented witnesses before the House Jan. 6 select committee, including former White House social media chief Dan Scavino and former trade adviser Peter Navarro.
A New York Times story this week revealed that Justice Department prosecutors in the Mar-a-Lago probe have been actively seeking the cooperation of two other clients of Woodward’s: Walt Nauta, a former military aide who served as Trump’s presidential valet, and Kash Patel, the former chief of staff at the Defense Department who was designated by Trump as one of his representatives to the National Archives.
Prosecutors were reported to have been concerned that Nauta “misled” them when he was questioned about the removal of documents from a storage room in Mar-a-Lago and are seeking to reinterview him. Patel, who has claimed without evidence that Trump declassified all of the documents in his possession at Mar-a-Lago, recently invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent before a federal grand jury, prompting Justice Department prosecutors to ask a federal judge to compel his testimony.
The campaign finance reports filed by Save America do not reflect whether the payments to Woodward’s law firm specifically cover his representation of Nauta and Patel. But the payments to the firm “raise a lot of questions,” said Michael Luttig, a retired federal appellate judge and former senior Justice Department official. “This smacks of obstruction of justice.”
If the witnesses’ legal fees are being paid by Trump’s PAC, “they have an incentive never to testify against Trump,” Luttig said, adding that such payments could be construed as “hush money.”
Reached on his cellphone, Woodward declined to comment on the Save America payments to his firm. He also declined to answer other questions about his representation of Nauta and Patel in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, including whether he has a “joint defense agreement” with Trump’s lawyers in the case. Under such arrangements, lawyers representing multiple witnesses or potential defendants in an investigation agree to share confidential information and strategy. (A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.)
As the lawyer for former White House aides Scavino and Navarro in the Jan. 6 committee probe, Woodward has presided over an aggressive legal strategy marked by attacks on the panel’s legitimacy and a refusal to cooperate based on claims of executive privilege. Scavino and Navarro both refused to comply with committee subpoenas, resulting in the committee’s vote to hold them in contempt of Congress. Navarro has since been indicted by the Justice Department over the matter.
The payments to lawyers made by Save America have received increasing attention as Trump’s legal troubles have multiplied. The PAC has raised over $107 million since he left the White House last year, bombarding donors in recent weeks with fundraising alerts focusing on the need to “win BIG” in next month’s midterm elections. It has also raised money through a joint fundraising committee that tells donors that “the future of our Country is at stake” and calls on “all Patriots” to join Trump’s “fight to save America.”
Campaign reports suggest the PAC is increasingly being used by Trump to help pay for his legal disputes. The Washington Post recently reported that Save America has doled out $7 million in payments to lawyers representing Trump and his current and former aides in multiple investigations, nearly as much as the $8.4 million it has given to Republican candidates and committees.
Yahoo News reported in September that this includes at least $1.1 million to lawyers representing Trump and his family in a civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James — a case that involves allegations of fraud in the former president’s personal business dealings unrelated to his service as president or to this year’s midterms.
The Mar-a-Lago probe burst into public view on Feb. 9 — just a few weeks before the $95,525 payment to Woodward’s law firm — when the Washington Post reported that the inspector general of the National Archives had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department over what it suspected was Trump’s failure to return government records, including some classified documents, after he left office, in violation of the Presidential Records Act.
This led to months of negotiations among the Archives, Justice Department officials and Trump’s representatives, culminating in the Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Mary McCord, the former acting attorney general for national security, said that, as the Justice Department seeks to determine if there are grounds for filing criminal charges in the case, the payments by Trump’s PAC to a law firm representing key witnesses could become a problematic issue for federal prosecutors.
“This does raise concerns about a conflict of interest between represented parties and the potential for influence of the witnesses who DOJ seeks to obtain testimony from,” she said.