Trump PAC paid nearly half a million to law firms representing allies subpoenaed by Jan. 6 committee

"It's not clear that arrangement ... is without coercion," says a panel member.

July 1, 2022, 3:03 PM

Former President Donald Trump's political action committee has paid nearly half a million dollars to multiple law firms that employ attorneys representing close allies of Trump who have been targeted by the Jan. 6 committee investigating the Capitol attack, according to a review of financial records by ABC News -- an arrangement that committee members say raises concerns about the possible coercion of witnesses.

Trump's Save America PAC began paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to multiple law firms and lawyers connected to his allies in the committee's crosshairs after the panel was first formed last summer, and continued the payments as the committee's investigation began issuing subpoenas throughout the year, according to multiple sources and a review of Federal Election Commission filings.

ABC News has identified payments to at least five law firms that are connected to lawyers representing Trump allies subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, totaling $471,000. None of the firms were paid by the PAC prior to the committee's formation last summer, according to FEC reports. The payments continued until as recently as May of this year.

While the disclosure reports show Save America's payments to these firms, the documents don't show which specific lawyers the payments are intended for, or who the firms are representing.

Key allies of the former president whose attorney's firms have received payments by Trump's PAC include former White House aides Stephen Bannon and Peter Navarro, as well as his former special assistant Dan Scavino -- all of whom have engaged in fierce legal battles with the committee in an effort to block their cooperation.

This week, a member of the Jan. 6 committee suggested that allies of Trump could be attempting to coerce committee witnesses by paying for their lawyers using money raised off of false election claims.

"We talked about the hundreds of millions of dollars that the former president raised, some of that money is being used to pay for lawyers for witnesses," Rep. Zoe Lofgren said on CNN. "And it's not clear that that arrangement is one that is without coercion, potentially, for some of those witnesses."

PHOTO: In this June 26, 2021, file photo, supporters cheer on former President Donald Trump after he spoke at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio.
In this June 26, 2021, file photo, supporters cheer on former President Donald Trump after he spoke at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio.
Tony Dejak/AP, FILE

In a statement to ABC News, Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington pushed back on the committee's suggestion, calling the panel "illegal and illegitimate" and saying the committee "does not have the facts, so instead they traffic in dishonest suggestions knowing the truth is not relevant to the Fake News Media."

Bannon and Navarro, two of the former president's fiercest supporters who have both been indicted by a federal grand jury on contempt of Congress charges, have both been represented by firms that have received money from Save America PAC.

The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Bannon in September 2021, citing "reason to believe" that the former Trump adviser had information regarding the Capitol attack. Bannon defied the subpoena and was ultimately indicted on contempt of Congress charges in November..

That same month, an attorney named Matthew Evan Corcoran from the firm Silverman Thompson filed a notice of appearance on behalf of Bannon to defend against contempt of Congress charges alongside David Schoen, who represented Trump during his second impeachment trial, according to court records reviewed by ABC News. Months later, campaign disclosure records show Trump's PAC made a $50,000 payment to Corcoran's law firm, Silverman Thompson, in May 2022. It was Save America's first time paying the firm.

Then in June, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro was arrested after being indicted for his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 panel. Navarro, who's been identified as a key player in the former president's efforts to overturn the election, represented himself when he was first subpoenaed in February -- but at least since mid-June, he's has been represented by attorney John Rowley, whose firm JPRowley Law has received thousands of dollars in payments from Trump's PAC since the committee was created.

Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who also played a key role in Trump's efforts to hold onto power, was also represented by Rowley as she worked to defy the committee's requests for cooperation.

In December 2021, Rowley, on Mitchell's behalf, filed to block the committee from obtaining her phone and text records, according to court documents reviewed by ABC News. Mitchell later withdrew the motion and testified before the committee.

Rowley's firm has received a total of $125,000 dollars from Trump's PAC since November of last year. The firm was first paid $50,000 on November 29, 2021, which came two weeks before Mitchell filed to block the committee, then in May received two more payments totaling $75,000.

Other law firms representing close Trump allies facing Jan. 6 subpoenas, including his former deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino, current spokesperson Taylor Budowich, and former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik, have also been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from Trump's PAC, financial disclosure records show. Both Budowich and Scavino still work for Trump.

Scavino, one of Trump's closest aides, was held in contempt by the committee after he offered limited cooperation with its subpoena. The Department of Justice earlier this month declined to pursue charges against him.

PHOTO: In this Aug. 26, 2020 file photo White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino walks onstage to speak inside the empty Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
In this Aug. 26, 2020 file photo White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino walks onstage to speak inside the empty Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

"This illegitimate committee is trying to drown innocent Americans in legal fees and assassinate their character with doctored evidence and dishonest innuendos -- that's the only coercion happening and the media is ignoring it," Budowich said in a statement to ABC News. "I will not be intimidated by corrupt politicians who are trying to destroy our country."

Budowich's attorney, Michael Abel, cofounder of Abel Bean Law, said in a statement, "Our Firm's representation of Mr. Budowich is a matter of public record. ... We categorically reject any contention regarding the alleged coercion of witnesses. Never happened. Never would happen. Ever. Nor has something so outrageous or unethical ever been mentioned or suggested to us."

Kerik's attorney, Timothy Parlatore -- whose firm, Parlatore Law Group LLP, received $25,000 from Save America PAC for "legal consulting" on April 22, 2022 -- told ABC News that the Save America payment was unrelated to Kerik. A representative for Scavino did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Separately, former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson was initially represented by former Trump White House lawyer Stefan Passantino, with her legal bills covered by Trump's Save America PAC, according to a source familiar with the arrangement. But Hutchinson switched attorneys just before delivering her bombshell testimony to the committee earlier this week, and is now represented by a firm not paid by the former president's political arm.

Since July 2021 when the Jan. 6 committee was formed, Passantino's firm, Elections LLC -- which has long received payments from Trump's PAC -- has been paid a total of $280,548 by Save America. It's unclear how much of that amount was for Hutchinson's legal bills.

Cofounded by Passantino and Trump's former deputy campaign manager, Justin Clark, Elections LLC has been one of the law firms paid not only by Save America but also by Trump's former presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee.

The former Trump campaign, in particular, paid the firm tens of thousands of dollars every month from April 2019 through March of this year, totaling $1.3 million, as both Passantino and Clark aided Trump's team in various legal matters, including contesting votes in states following the 2020 election.

Trump's team has also been directing others to a legal defense fund set up by American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, sources tell ABC News.

Schlapp, who set up the "America First Fund" and has worked with Trump's team to determine who would receive assistance from the fund, has said that the fund is "not going to assist anyone who agrees with the mission of the committee and is aiding and abetting the committee."

At the close of Tuesday's hearing, Jan. 6 committee leaders said they believe that some Trump allies who they did not name have attempted to intimidate witnesses who are cooperating with the special House panel. Sources have told ABC News that Hutchinson was one of the witnesses who told the Jan. 6 committee she was pressured by Trump allies to protect the former president.

"Most people know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns," Rep. Liz Cheney said. "We will be discussing these issues as a committee and carefully considering our next steps."

A lightly regulated political action committee, Save America PAC can spend its funds freely as long as its expenditures are property reported to the FEC, said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert and the deputy executive director of the watchdog journalism project Documented.

But the PAC selectively covering witnesses' legal fees raises ethical concerns, he said, especially when the PAC's funds are controlled by a person who "arguably has the most at stake in the Jan. investigation."

"The biggest ethical concern is that Trump's PAC will cover legal fees strategically, in order to deter witnesses from cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee or to encourage favorable testimony," Fischer said. "In other words, the worry is that there'll be an implicit understanding that Trump's PAC will only cover the legal fees of those who decline to fully cooperate with the committee, or that the PAC will withhold support to witnesses who provide testimony that Trump deems harmful."

ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.