Feb 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Fees — not just strategy — blew up Trump's legal team

President Trump is seen boarding Air Force One for the final time.

President Trump boards Air Force One for the final time. Photo: Pete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images

Disagreements over legal strategy weren't the only reason Donald Trump's defense team collapsed just days before his second impeachment trial, Axios has learned.

What we're hearing: The notoriously stingy former president and his lead lawyer, Butch Bowers, wrangled over compensation during a series of tense phone calls, sources familiar with their conversations said. The argument came even though Trump has raised over $170 million from the public that could be used on his legal defenses.

  • The two initially agreed Bowers would be paid $250,000 for his individual services, a figure that "delighted" Trump, one of the sources said.
  • However, Trump didn't realize Bowers hadn't included additional expenses — including more lawyers, researchers and other legal fees that would be accrued on the job.
  • He was said to be livid when Bowers came back to him with a total budget of $3 million. Trump called the South Carolina attorney and eventually negotiated him down to $1 million.
  • All of this infuriated Trump and his political team, who think the case will be straightforward, given 45 Republican senators already voted to dismiss the trial on the basis it's unconstitutional to convict a former president on impeachment charges.
  • Trump's political arm also was planning to pay separately for audiovisuals, a rapid-response team and legislative liaison.

In the end, the money dispute added to frustrations Bowers and the other lawyers felt about whether the former president's claims of election fraud should be central to their arguments.

  • "I think there was some problems getting money for it, but it wasn't [just] that," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who helped Trump secure Bowers and other impeachment lawyers. "Just too many cooks in the kitchen."

What they're saying: "These guys are no longer relevant. We have our lawyers in place, we have a solid team, and we're looking ahead," Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, told Axios.

Go deeper