A trio of top Donald Trump allies who have racked up huge legal expenses to defend themselves from either criminal charges, convictions or defamation lawsuits have lost key lawyers for failing to pay six- and seven-figure bills in a sign of the huge legal problems they face.
The hefty legal bills of the ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and MyPillow CEO, Mike Lindell, underscore the scale of the criminal and civil charges that ensnare them.
Welcome to the escalating legal and financial headaches plaguing three of the former US president’s top loyalists who pushed various false claims about his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden that helped provide cover for Trump’s election falsehoods.
The list of legal woes is long.
Bannon has a court appeal slated for November over his criminal conviction last year and pending four-month jail sentence for obstructing Congress by spurning a subpoena from the House panel that was investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Bannon also faces a trial next May in New York related to state fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges that he bilked donors in a Mexican wall project, dubbed “We Build the Wall.”
Meanwhile, Giuliani was charged in August with 13 criminal counts in Georgia by the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, who also charged Trump and 17 others as part of a conspiracy to thwart Trump’s 2020 loss there. Pressures on Giuliani escalated in October when three other ex-Trump lawyers he worked with in varying ways agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors.
Further, Lindell is fighting $2bn defamation lawsuits by electronic voting machine firms he has claimed helped rig the 2020 against Trump, which have cost him millions of dollars in legal fees owed to a Minneapolis law firm.
In October, the law firm formally asked a court to allow it to withdraw from representing Lindell in these cases, citing millions of dollars it was owed.
On another legal front, a top lawyer for Bannon and Giuliani has ditched them and filed big claims for monies owed. Robert Costello and his firm, which has represented both Giuliani and Bannon, have filed separate claims against the duo, respectively, for $1.4m and $480,000.
A court judgment has been issued against Bannon for the $480,000, which he is fighting with the help of lawyer Harlan Protass. It is unclear when and how much Giuliani may pay Costello and his firm. But a legal source familiar with Giuliani’s seven-figure debt faults Trump not Giuliani for the unpaid bill, claiming that Trump at a meeting with Costello and Giuliani earlier this year in Florida said he would “take care of” Giuliani’s legal bill.
On top of their past-due legal bills, Giuliani and Bannon now are also locked in other high-stakes legal battles.
In Georgia, Giuliani’s legal situation seems to have become more perilous: lawyers Jenna Ellis, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell who worked in varying ways with Giuliani as he pushed false claims in Georgia and elsewhere about Trump’s loss, pleaded guilty in October, and agreed to cooperate with Willis’s office
Giuliani has called his indictment a “travesty”, but ex-prosecutors say that he faces new pressures in the wake of other Trump lawyers’ plea deals.
“As expected, the dominoes have started to fall in Georgia with three plea agreements by key Trump lawyers who in different ways worked with Rudy,” Paul Pelletier, the ex-acting chief of the fraud section at the justice department, told the Guardian.
“Rudy too may want to plead and cooperate to reduce his exposure, but no prosecutor in their right mind would use him as a cooperating witness. There’s simply no way to undo the entrenched legacy of his outlandish behavior.”
Other ex-prosecutors concur that Giuliani’s credentials as a witness are tarnished.
“Rudy’s under huge pressure, but he’s unlikely to flip because that would be the rational thing to do,” ex-prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig told the Guardian.
Still some justice department veterans say Giuliani may try to cut a deal.
“Giuliani must be concerned that Powell and Ellis will testify against him and add to the likelihood of conviction,” said Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney for eastern Michigan, told the Guardian. “It may not be in Giuliani’s DNA to admit wrongdoing, but now would be the time to pursue a deal from Fani Willis if he is willing to plead guilty.”
Giuliani reportedly has not been offered a plea deal so far, and Giuliani’s spokesman has nixed the idea of accepting one.
In another blow in Georgia, Giuliani was found liable in August for making defamatory comments about two Georgia election workers, and later ordered to pay their legal fees and turn over evidence to them.
Further, the voting technology firm Smartmatic in August skewered Giuliani in court filings, charging him with making up “excuse after excuse” to avoid handing over documents in its $2.7bn defamation lawsuit against him, Fox News, and others who pushed lies about the 2020 election results.
Despite his mounting problems, Giuliani has kept some longtime allies. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of WABC radio, where Giuliani has a daily radio program, told the Guardian that Giuliani “earns good money with us. He gets paid monthly.” Catsimatidis added that: “I pray he’s found innocent.”
Although Bannon’s legal problems differ, they are just as intense, if not more so.
The combative Trump ally, known for his far-right War Room podcast, was convicted last year and sentenced to four months in jail for obstruction of Congress by flouting subpoenas to cooperate with the House January 6 panel.
Bannon appealed the conviction and a court hearing is slated for November.
Although Judge Carl Nichols, in granting Bannon an appeal of his conviction, left the door open to a possible reversal or new trial, ex-prosecutors do not think Bannon’s conviction is likely to be reversed.
“I think Bannon‘s conviction is on very solid ground,” McQuade told the Guardian. “He failed to even appear when subpoenaed by Congress. If he thought he had a good faith basis for a testimonial privilege, the way to assert it would have been to show up and answer all other questions, and to assert the privilege on a question-by-question basis. He failed to do even that.
“Moreover, because he was not an executive branch employee during the relevant time period, his claims of executive privilege are flimsy to nonexistent.”
Other ex-prosecutors are dubious that Bannon’s appeal will succeed.
“Even though Judge Nichols said Bannon’s appeal was serious, it is not. Bannon has almost no chance of overturning his conviction. He’s manifestly guilty,” Rosenzweig told the Guardian.
Separately, Bannon is due to stand trial next May on New York state charges that he defrauded donors to his non-profit “We Build the Wall” project, which already has led to three pleas or convictions of Bannon associates.
Bannon’s trial will be in the same court in Manhattan that ruled he owed Costello’s law firm $480,000. His lawyer is slated to be Protass, who is appealing the court’s fee decision against Bannon which he has called “clearly wrong”.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the charges of defrauding donors.
Right before Trump left office in early 2021 he pardoned Bannon, who had been indicted on similar federal fraud charges for his role in “We Build the Wall”.
Notwithstanding his mounting legal threats, Bannon remains an aggressive and busy Trump ally. In October, he used his War Room podcast to host some of Trump’s most far-right Maga allies like the Florida representative Matt Gaetz, who played a key role in ousting the former House speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Some ex-Republican congressmen view Bannon as a disruptive, pro-Trump political force. “Bannon always struck me as a leader of the nihilist wing of the GOP coalition,” ex-Republican congressman Charlie Dent told the Guardian. “His intervention with the speaker’s race was clearly a problem and advanced Trump’s interest in the House.”
“He’s like Trump: all grievances, all the time.”