Multiple Trump Witnesses Have Received Significant Financial Benefits From His Businesses, Campaign

“This story was originally published by ProPublica.

Nine witnesses in the criminal cases against former President Donald Trump have received significant financial benefits, including large raises from his campaign, severance packages, new jobs, and a grant of shares and cash from Trump’s media company.

The benefits have flowed from Trump’s businesses and campaign committees, according to a ProPublica analysis of public disclosures, court records and securities filings. One campaign aide had his average monthly pay double, from $26,000 to $53,500. Another employee got a $2 million severance package barring him from voluntarily cooperating with law enforcement. And one of the campaign’s top officials had her daughter hired onto the campaign staff, where she is now the fourth-highest-paid employee.

These pay increases and other benefits often came at delicate moments in the legal proceedings against Trump. One aide who was given a plum position on the board of Trump’s social media company, for example, got the seat after he was subpoenaed but before he testified.

Significant changes to a staffer’s work situation, such as bonuses, pay raises, firings or promotions, can be evidence of a crime if they come outside the normal course of business. To prove witness tampering, prosecutors would need to show that perks or punishments were intended to influence testimony.

White-collar defense lawyers say the situation Trump finds himself in — in the dual role of defendant and boss of many of the people who are the primary witnesses to his alleged crimes — is not uncommon. Their standard advice is not to provide any unusual benefits or penalties to such employees. Ideally, decisions about employees slated to give evidence should be made by an independent body such as a board, not the boss who is under investigation.

Even if the perks were not intended to influence witnesses, they could prove troublesome for Trump in any future trials. Prosecutors could point to the benefits to undermine the credibility of those aides on the witness stand.

“It feels very shady, especially as you detect a pattern. … I would worry about it having a corrupt influence,” Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said after hearing from ProPublica about benefits provided to potential Trump witnesses.

But McQuade said these cases are difficult to prove, even if the intent were actually to influence testimony, because savvy defendants don’t explicitly attach strings to the benefits and would more likely be “all wink and a nod, ‘You’re a great, loyal employee, here’s a raise.’”

In response to questions from ProPublica, a Trump campaign official said that any raises or other benefits provided to witnesses were the result of their taking on more work due to the campaign or his legal cases heating up, or because they took on new duties.

The official added that Trump himself isn’t involved in determining how much campaign staffers are paid, and that compensation is entirely delegated to the campaign’s top leaders. “The president is not involved in the decision-making process,” the official said. “I would argue Trump doesn’t know what we’re paid.”

Campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement that “the 2024 Trump campaign is the most well-run and professional operation in political history. Any false assertion that we’re engaging in any type of behavior that may be regarded as tampering is absurd and completely fake.”

Trump’s attorney, David Warrington, sent ProPublica a cease-and-desist letter demanding this article not be published. The letter warned that if the outlet and its reporters “continue their reckless campaign of defamation, President Trump will evaluate all legal remedies.”

It’s possible the benefits are more widespread. Payments from Trump campaign committees are disclosed publicly, but the finances of his businesses are mostly private, so raises, bonuses and other payments from those entities are not typically disclosed.

ProPublica did not find evidence that Trump personally approved the pay increases or other benefits. But Trump famously keeps close watch over his operations and prides himself on penny-pinching. One former aide compared working for the Trump Organization, his large company, to “a small family business” where every employee “in some sense reports to Mr. Trump.” Former aides have said Trump demands unwavering loyalty from subordinates, even when their duties require independence. After his Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself against then-President Trump’s wishes, paving the way for a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump fumed about being crossed. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Trump asked, referring to the notorious former aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy who later served as Trump’s faithful fixer long before Trump became president.

In addition to the New York case in which Trump was convicted last week, stemming from hidden payments to a porn star, Trump is facing separate charges federally and in Georgia for election interference and in another federal case for mishandling classified documents.

Attempts to exert undue influence on witnesses have been a repeated theme of Trump-related investigations and criminal cases over the years.

Trump’s former campaign manager and former campaign adviser were convicted on federal witness tampering charges in 2018 and 2019. The campaign adviser had told a witness to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli,’” referencing a character in “The Godfather Part II” who lies to a Senate committee investigating organized crime. Trump later pardoned both men in the waning days of his presidency. (He did not pardon a co-defendant of the campaign manager who had cooperated with the government.)

During the congressional investigation into the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a former White House staffer testified that she got a call from a colleague the night before an interview with investigators. The colleague told her Trump’s chief of staff “wants me to let you know that he knows you’re loyal and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss.” (A spokesperson for the chief of staff denied that he tried to influence testimony.)

Last year, Trump himself publicly discouraged a witness from testifying in the Georgia case. Trump posted on social media that he had read about a Georgia politician who “will be testifying before the Fulton County Grand Jury. He shouldn’t.”

One witness has said publicly that, when he quit working for Trump in the midst of the classified documents criminal investigation, he was offered golf tournament tickets, a lawyer paid for by Trump and a new job that would have come with a raise. The witness, a valet and manager at Mar-a-Lago, had direct knowledge of the handling of the government documents at the club, the focus of one of the criminal cases against the former president. “I’m sure the boss would love to see you,” the employee, Brian Butler, recalled Trump’s property manager telling him. (The episode was first reported by CNN.)

In an interview with ProPublica, Butler, who declined the offers, said he looked at them “innocently for a while.” But when he added up the benefits plus the timing, he thought “it could be them trying to get me back in the circle.”

One Trump aide who plays a key role in multiple cases is a lawyer named Boris Epshteyn, who became an important figure in Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

A college classmate of one of Trump’s sons who worked on the 2016 campaign and briefly in the White House, Epshteyn was involved in assembling sets of false electors around the country after Trump lost the 2020 election, and Epshteyn’s emails and texts have come up repeatedly in investigations.

In 2022, he testified before the Georgia grand jury that later indicted Trump on charges related to attempts to overturn the election. The FBI seized his phone, and in April 2023 he was interviewed by the federal special counsel.

In early August 2023, the special counsel charged Trump with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding as part of an effort to overturn the 2020 election. A couple weeks later, the Georgia grand jury handed down an indictment accusing Trump of racketeering as part of a plot to overturn the election results in the state. From November 2022 to August 2023, the Trump campaign had paid Epshteyn’s company an average of $26,000 per month. The month after the indictments, his pay hit a new high, $50,000, and climbed in October to $53,500 per month, where it has remained ever since.

Epshteyn is a contractor with the campaign and the payments go to his company, Georgetown Advisory, which is based at a residential home in New Jersey. The company does not appear to have an office or other employees. Campaign filings say the payments are for “communications & legal consulting.”

Kenneth Notter, an attorney at MoloLamken who specializes in white-collar defense, said that a defendant should have a good explanation for a major increase in pay like Epshteyn’s. “Any change in treatment of a witness is something that gets my heart rate up as a lawyer.”

Already in early 2023, months before the pay bump, a Trump campaign spokesperson described Epshteyn to The New York Times as “a deeply valued member of the team” who had “done a terrific job shepherding the legal efforts fighting” the investigations of Trump. The Times reported then that Epshteyn spoke to Trump multiple times per day.

Timothy Parlatore, an attorney who left Trump’s defense team last year citing infighting, found Epshteyn’s large raise baffling. He questioned Epshteyn’s fitness to handle high-stakes criminal defense given his scant experience in the area. “He tries to coordinate all the legal efforts, which is a role he’s uniquely unqualified for,” Parlatore said.

The Trump campaign official told ProPublica that Epshteyn got a pay raise because Trump’s legal cases intensified and, as a result, Epshteyn had more legal work to coordinate. The official declined to say if he started working more hours: “All of us are working 24/7, … every second of the day.” Epshteyn declined to comment on the record.

Even after the major pay increase, Epshteyn has not devoted all of his working time to the Trump campaign. He has continued to consult for other campaigns in recent months, disclosure filings show. And in November, he got a new role as managing director of a financial services firm in New York called Kenmar Securities, regulatory filings show.

Other employees in Trump’s political orbit have followed a similar pattern — including his top aide.

Trump campaign head Susie Wiles, a Florida political consultant, was present when Trump allegedly went beyond improperly holding onto classified documents and showed them to people lacking proper security clearances.

When Trump was indicted on June 8, 2023, over his handling of the documents, the indictment described Wiles as a “PAC representative.” It described Trump allegedly showing her a classified map related to a military operation, acknowledging “that he should not be showing it” and warning her to “not get too close.”

That June, Right Coast Strategies, the political consulting firm Wiles founded, received its highest-ever monthly payment from the Trump campaign: $75,000, an amount the firm has equaled only once since.

Wiles had been a grand jury witness before the indictment. News reports indicated Wiles had told others that she continued to be loyal to Trump and only testified because she was forced to. (And, according to Wiles, Trump was told she was a witness sometime before the indictment’s June release.)

The Trump campaign official told ProPublica that the spike in payments was largely because Wiles was billing for previous months.

She also got a 20% raise that May, from $25,000 to $30,000 per month. “She went back and redid her contract,” the official said, adding that her role as a witness was not a factor in that raise.

A few months later, the Wiles family got more good news. Wiles’ daughter Caroline, who had done some work for Trump’s first campaign and in the White House, where she reportedly left one job because she didn’t pass a background check, was hired by his campaign. Her salary: $222,000, making her currently the fourth-highest-paid staffer. (The Trump campaign official said her salary included a monthly housing stipend.)

Susie Wiles said she and another campaign official were responsible for hiring her daughter, who she said has an expertise in logistics and was brought on to handle arrangements for surrogates taking Trump’s place at events he couldn’t attend. Wiles said Trump wasn’t involved in the hire.

Caroline Wiles told ProPublica her mother’s position in the campaign played no role in her getting a job, but she declined to describe the circumstances around the job offer. “How did I get the job? Because I have earned it,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Susie.”

The indictment suggests Susie Wiles herself has been aware of efforts to keep potential witnesses in the fold. Soon after the FBI found classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, a Trump employee was asked in a group text chat that included Wiles to confirm that the club’s property manager “was loyal.”

Wiles told ProPublica she couldn’t talk about the details of the case, but she called the text message exchange “a nothing.”

More generally, she said she was unaware of the need to ensure employees who are witnesses do not appear to be receiving special treatment. “It’s the first time I’ve heard that’s best practice,” she said. “I don’t mind telling you I conduct myself in such a way that I don’t worry about any of that.” Trump, she said, had never talked to her about her role as a witness.

Less powerful aides who are witnesses have also enjoyed career advances.

Margo Martin, a Trump aide who, like Wiles, allegedly witnessed Trump showing off what he described as a secret military document, got a significant raise not long after the classified documents case heated up with the search at Mar-a-Lago.

According to the indictment, Trump told Martin and others the military plan was “secret” and “highly confidential.” “As president I could have declassified it,” he allegedly told the group. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

A few months before her grand jury appearance, she moved from the payroll of a Trump political committee to a job with the campaign as it was launching. Martin was given a roughly 20% pay raise, from $155,000 to $185,000 per year, according to the Trump campaign. Campaign finance filings show a much larger pay increase for Martin, but the Trump campaign said the filings are misleading because of a difference in how payroll taxes and withholdings are reported by the two committees.

Because of that quirk, it’s impossible to know who else got raises and how big they were. The campaign official said that at least one other witness also got a pay raise but did not provide details about how much and when.

Dan Scavino is a longtime communications aide who Trump once called the “most powerful man in politics” because he could post for Trump on the president’s social media accounts. Scavino was among the small group of staff who had an up-close view of Trump during the final weeks of his presidency — a focus of the congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection and the criminal probe into election interference.

In August 2021, a month after the congressional investigation began, securities filings show that the parent company behind Truth Social, Trump’s social media company, gave Scavino a consulting deal that ultimately paid out $240,000 a year.

The next month, lawmakers issued a subpoena to Scavino to ask him what the White House knew about the potential for violence before the attacks and what actions Trump took to try to overturn the election results. The panel gave Scavino a half-dozen extensions while negotiating with him, but he ultimately refused to testify or turn over documents and was held in contempt.

In September 2022, Scavino received a subpoena to testify before the criminal grand jury in the federal election interference probe. This time, he wasn’t able to get out of it and was seen leaving the Washington, D.C., courthouse in May 2023.

Bits of Scavino’s testimony were reported by ABC News, citing unnamed sources. Though his recollections of Trump from Jan. 6 painted the former president unfavorably, his reported testimony didn’t include significant new information. He testified Trump was “very angry” that day, and, despite pleas from aides to calm the Capitol rioters, Trump for hours “was just not interested” in taking action to stop it. When the testimony was reported, Trump’s spokesperson said Scavino is one of the former president’s “most loyal allies, and his actual testimony shows just how strong President Trump is positioned in this case.”

Between getting the subpoena and testifying, Scavino was given a seat on the board of the Trump social media company.

Scavino was also granted a $600,000 retention bonus and a $4 million “executive promissory note” paid in shares, according to SEC filings. The company’s public filings do not make clear when these deals were put in place.

As one of the few aides who Trump was with on Jan. 6, Scavino is likely to be called if Trump’s election interference cases go to trial.

Reached by ProPublica, Scavino declined to answer questions about how he got the board seat and other benefits from the Trump media company. “It has nothing to do,” he said, “with any investigation.”

A Trump Media spokesperson declined to answer questions about who made the decision to give Scavino the benefits and why, but said, “It appears this article will comprise utterly false insinuations.”

When Atlanta attorney Jennifer Little was hired to represent Trump in his Georgia election interference case, it marked the high point of her career.

A former local prosecutor who started her own practice, she had previously taken on far more modest cases. Highlights on her website include a biker who fell because of a pothole, a child investigated for insensitive social media comments and drunk drivers with “DUI’s as high as .19.” Little had made headlines for some higher profile cases, like a candidate for lieutenant governor accused of sexual harassment, but everything on her resume paled in comparison to representing a former president accused of plotting to reverse the outcome of an election.

Then in May 2022, her job got even more complicated when Trump pulled her into his brewing showdown with the Justice Department over classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Despite multiple requests, Trump had not returned all of the documents he had brought with him from the White House to his Florida club. The Justice Department had just elevated the matter by subpoenaing Trump for the records, and Trump wanted her advice.

Little told him, according to news reports, that unlike the government’s prior requests, a subpoena meant he could face criminal charges if he didn’t comply.

When Trump ultimately did not turn over the records and the criminal investigation intensified, Little’s involvement in that pivotal meeting got her called before a grand jury by federal prosecutors.

Some of her testimony before that grand jury, which determines whether someone will be indicted, may have been favorable for Trump. In one reported instance, Little’s recollections undermined contemporaneous documentary evidence that was damaging to Trump. Investigators had obtained notes from another lawyer at the May 2022 meeting indicating Trump suggested they not “play ball” with federal authorities: “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”

Little told the grand jury she remembered the question more benignly, according to an ABC News story that cited anonymous sources, and said she couldn’t recall Trump recommending they not “play ball.”

Trump has since been indicted over his handling of the classified documents. If the case goes to trial, Little’s testimony could prove crucial as the two sides try to make their case about Trump’s consciousness of guilt and whether he purposely withheld documents. (Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case and has said he did nothing wrong.)

Just after Little was forced to testify before the grand jury in March 2023, a Trump political action committee paid her $218,000, by far the largest payment she’d received while working for Trump. In the year after she became a witness, she has made at least $1.3 million from the Trump political committee, more than twice as much as she had during the year prior.

Little told ProPublica the large payment she received soon after she was compelled to testify was due to a lengthy motion she filed around then to block the release of the Georgia grand jury’s findings and prevent Trump from being indicted. Her hourly rate did not change, she said, the workload increased. The elevated payments in the year after she became a witness did coincide with the Georgia case heating up and Trump getting indicted.

The Trump campaign official said the spike in payments to Little after she became a witness was the result of her billing for multiple time periods at once.

A similar pattern played out for the other Trump lawyer present at the Mar-a-Lago meeting about the subpoena.

Evan Corcoran, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in white-collar criminal defense, was new to the team at the time. And it was his notes, obtained by investigators, that memorialized Trump suggesting they not “play ball.” His notes also included a description of Trump seeming to instruct him to withhold some sensitive documents from authorities when the former president made a “plucking motion.”

“He made a funny motion as though — well okay why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out,” Corcoran’s notes read, according to the indictment.

Like Little, Corcoran tried to fight being forced to testify before a grand jury, asserting that as Trump’s lawyer, their communications were protected. But prosecutors were able to convince a judge that the protection didn’t apply because their legal advice was used to commit crimes.

Corcoran’s notes from his conversations with Trump formed the backbone of the eventual indictment, and his descriptions of those meetings are expected to be a critical component at trial. The lawyer made an initial appearance before the grand jury in January 2023 and appeared again in another session in March.

Around the time he was forced to be a witness, Corcoran recused himself from the classified documents case, but he continued to represent Trump on other matters. Nevertheless his firm’s compensation shot up for a few months.

Just days after his March grand jury testimony, the Trump campaign sent two payments to his firm totaling $786,000, the largest amount paid in a single day in his almost two years working for Trump. The firm brought in a total of $1.4 million in that four-week span, more than double its payments from any other comparable period during Corcoran’s time working for Trump.

Corcoran did not respond to questions from ProPublica. The Trump campaign official said the spike in payments came because the firm was billing for more hours of work as Trump’s cases ramped up. The official added that the number of lawyers from the firm working on the case may have increased but could not provide specifics.

The issue of witnesses who have received financial rewards from Trump has already come up at both of the former president’s New York trials.

In the civil fraud case last year, prosecutors questioned the Trump Organization’s former controller about the $500,000 in severance he had been promised after retiring earlier in the year. During his testimony, the former controller broke down in tears as he complained about allegations against an employer he loved and defended the valuations at the center of the case as “justified.” At the time of the testimony, he was still receiving his severance in installments.

Former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg got a $2 million severance agreement in January 2023, four months after the New York attorney general sued Trump for financial fraud in his real estate business. The agreement contains a nondisparagement clause and language barring Weisselberg from voluntarily cooperating with investigators.

It came up in Trump’s hush money trial last month when prosecutors told the judge that the severance agreement was one of the reasons they would not call Weisselberg . He was still due several payments.

“The agreement seems to preclude us from talking to him or him talking to us at the risk of losing $750,000 of outstanding severance pay,” one prosecutor said.

In last year’s fraud trial, the judge wrote of the severance agreement, “The Trump Organization keeps Weisselberg on a short leash, and it shows.”

A Trump Organization spokesperson said in a statement that after Weisselberg and the controller announced their retirement plans, “the company agreed to pay them severance based on the number of years they worked at the company. President Trump played no role in that decision.” Weisselberg’s severance agreement was signed by Trump’s son Eric.

Another witness from the civil trial last year, longtime Trump friend and real estate executive Steve Witkoff, was called as an expert witness by Trump’s defense team, and he defended the Trump Organization real estate valuations at the heart of the case.

Two months after Witkoff’s testimony, Trump’s campaign for the first time started paying his company, the Witkoff Group, for air travel. The payments continued over several weeks, ultimately totalling more than $370,000.

The Trump campaign official confirmed the campaign used Witkoff’s private jet for multiple trips, including Trump’s visit to a stretch of the Texas border in February, saying it “appropriately reimbursed” him for the flights. The official said it sometimes used commercial charter jet services but opted for Witkoff’s plane because of “availability, space, and convenience.”

Witkoff and The Witkoff Group did not respond to requests for comment.

Do you have any information about Trump’s campaign or his businesses that we should know? Robert Faturechi can be reached by email at robert.faturechi@propublica.org and by Signal or WhatsApp at 213-271-7217. Justin Elliott can be reached by email at justin@propublica.org or by Signal or WhatsApp at 774-826-6240.


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