QAnon-linked legal fund spent $400,000 defending Trump allies, new filing shows

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd during a campaign rally on September 25, 2023 in Summerville, South Carolina.

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A fund intended to pay the legal bills of former president Donald Trump’s allies backed chiefly by reported QAnon supporters has spent nearly $400,000, the bulk of which went to a single law firm, new records showed Wednesday.

The Patriot Legal Defense Fund received more than $1.5 million between its creation in mid-July and the end of December, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Of the total spent by the group, $221,000 went to the firm Brand Woodward Law, mostly in the form of professional and legal fees.

Another $150,000 from the fund went to the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher for the nondescript purpose of “services rendered,” the IRS filing shows.

The fund was created by Trump campaign advisor Susie Wiles and former campaign aide Michael Glassner to help pay the bills of Trump’s supporters facing lawsuits arising from their “participation in the political process,” according to its records.

Of the fund’s 23 contributors, the biggest contribution by far came from the Caryn L. Hildenbrand Living Trust, which donated $1 million in mid-November.

The trust is associated with Caryn Borland and her husband, Michael Borland, who together gave more than $1 million toward Trump’s reelection bid in 2020, The New York Times reported.

The Borlands have reportedly expressed support for QAnon, the internet-born conspiracy theory involving a belief that Trump and his allies were fighting a behind-the-scenes war against a global sex-trafficking ring run by powerful Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

In 2020, then-Vice President Mike Pence canceled plans to attend a Trump campaign fundraiser hosted by the Borlands in Montana after their link with QAnon came to light, according to the Associated Press.

When CNBC called a phone number associated with Caryn Borland and asked to speak with either her or Michael, a person who answered the phone hung up.

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Caryn Borland is also the biggest donor to a separate legal fund specifically supporting Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former lawyer who filed for bankruptcy as he faces a $146 million defamation judgment and a criminal prosecution. Borland donated $300,000 out of the $727,000 total Giuliani raised between August and December, records show.

Stanley Woodward, a partner at Brand Woodward Law, declined to comment about the money paid by the Patriot Legal Defense Fund.

Woodward represents Walt Nauta, Trump’s assistant and co-defendant in the criminal case centered on the ex-president’s retention of classified documents at his Palm Beach resort home Mar-a-Lago. Trump and Nauta have pleaded not guilty to the charges in the case.

Walt Nauta, a US Navy veteran and a White House military valet to former US president Donald Trump, left, and Stanley Woodward, lawyer, right, arrive at the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building on July 06, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

Eva Marie Uzcategul | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Woodward has also represented more than a half-dozen other people who have been questioned by prosecutors in the documents case, NBC News reported.

The lawyer is entwined with so many figures in the documents case that special counsel Jack Smith raised concerns over whether Woodward’s client history posed a conflict of interest.

Trump’s PAC, Save America, paid Brand Woodward Law $202,000 in March 2023, according to FEC filings.

Woodward has also represented numerous others related to that case, as well as multiple people related to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

That client list also includes several people facing lawsuits stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, such as Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs and his wife, Connie Meggs. Kelly Meggs was sentenced in May to 12 years in prison on seditious conspiracy charges.

Woodward also represented Trump White House aide Dan Scavino in connection with a House select committee investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. Woodward has done work for other Jan. 6 rioters and people in Trump’s orbit, including former advisor Peter Navarro and former Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

Spokespeople for Gibson Dunn did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The new information about the Patriot Legal Defense Fund came one day after the Times reported that PACs backing Trump have spent approximately $50 million on legal expenses last year as the former president battled numerous criminal and civil cases.

He faces other daunting legal bills. A jury last week ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million in damages for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll after she came forward to accuse him of raping her in the mid-1990s. That’s in addition to $5 million that a separate federal jury awarded Carroll last year in a related sex assault and defamation case against Trump.

A potentially much larger sum could be coming in Trump’s civil business fraud case in Manhattan Supreme Court: New York Attorney General Letitia James has asked the judge in that case to order Trump and his co-defendants to pay $370 million in damages.

CNBC’s Brian Schwartz contributed reporting.

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