Billionaire Robert Mercer and his wife Diana donated almost $200,000 to the legal defense fund of the Republican Party on the day that President Donald Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, financial filings show.
The combined $193,400 donation the Mercers made on May 9 went to the GOP legal fund that Trump has been drawing from to pay the lawyers defending him during the investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The Mercers are just one of several billionaire couples donating heavily to the fund in recent months, according to the filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey as well as whether the Trump campaign assisted Russia in hacking campaigns to help the billionaire property developer beat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
The Mercers have been linked to this investigation through their stake in the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica and involvement in the Trump campaign. They own a $10 million share in the firm which helped the Trump campaign use granular data to target ads at specific American voters on Facebook.
The Mercers first began to play a central role in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign after the New York City real estate mogul won the Republican nomination. They helped bring on board figures like advisor Kellyanne Conway and Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, who chaired the campaign until Trump’s election victory November 8.
The couple did not respond to a request for comment sent to Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, by Newsweek.
House Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee, has said she thinks “the Russians had help” from inside the U.S. and that she’s “always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” Trump’s former campaign rival Hillary Clinton made similar accusations during an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air last month.
Yet no evidence linking the firm to the Kremlin’s effort to meddle in the election, or of any other wrongdoing, has emerged. The Mercers are not accused of any wrongdoing.
To fund his legal defense against the Russia investigation, Trump has dipped into the donation pot at the Republican National Committee (RNC) that the Mercers contributed to, as well as donations to his re-election campaign, Reuters revealed September 19.
CNN reported that in August the RNC paid out $230,000—giving John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer on the Russia investigation, $100,000 and $131,250 to attorney Jay Sekulow and his firm the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group.
ABC News confirmed these details with the RNC, as well as the fact the Republican Party paid nearly $200,000 of Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr.’s legal bills. Trump Jr.’s lawyer Alan Futerfas got $166,527.50 and $30,102.90 went to the law firm Williams & Jensen. These payments will show up on the RNC's September disclosure.
The RNC did not respond to Newsweek ’s questions about whether funds had gone to any other Trump lawyers such as the president’s former lead Russia investigation counsel Marc Kasowitz.
Trump Jr. became a person of interest in Mueller’s Russia investigation after The New York Times revealed in July that he met with a Russian lawyer and a former Soviet counter intelligence officer at Trump Tower with other key Trump campaign figures. The meeting was organized after Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Clinton from Moscow.
Trump Jr. said later they discussed adoptions—coded language for American sanctions that freeze the assets of corrupt Russian oligarchs.
Trump Jr. and his father haven’t only benefited from donations made by the Mercers. Several other billionaire couples have made increasingly large contributions to the RNC’s “legal proceedings account” in recent months also.
In July, as many as four billionaire families gave a total of $711,900 to the RNC’s legal defense fund according to FEC filings. In June the RNC’s fundraising records show a total of $207,700 poured in, and $334,900 was given by as many as five donors in May.
Among the donors are The Home Depot’s billionaire co-founder Bernard Marcus and his wife Wilma, who gave a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s legal defense fund in July. Marcus has been a fierce supporter of Trump and wrote in an opinion piece last year that “the fate of this nation depends upon sending him, and not Hillary Clinton, to the White House.”
In July investor Charles Schwab—founder of the bank and brokerage firm the Charles Schwab Corporation—also gave the maximum individual donation of $101,700 to the RNC’s legal defense account.
One the largest investors in energy pipelines in the U.S., Richard Kayne and his wife Suzanne, donated a combined $203,400 as well.
Yet among these people Robert Mercer was the only one to be named one of the “top 10 most influential billionaires in politics,” alongside Rupert Murdoch, George Soros and the Koch brothers by The Washington Post in 2015. The couple reportedly spent $25 million in the 2016 campaign.
On top of their $193,400 contribution to the Republican Party’s legal defense fund this year, the Mercers also donated a combined $406,800 divided among the RNC’s presidential nominating convention and national party headquarter accounts, for a grand total of $600,200.
“Donors can choose which account their contribution should go to,” said Judith Ingram, a spokesperson for the FEC, pointing out that the Mercers would have specifically asked the donations to be given to the legal defense fund.
Ingram noted that the FEC has no written regulations on the legal defense fund accounts and could not detail “any constraints on their use.”
According to election law experts, Trump is the first American president in the modern era to cover the cost of defending himself in a criminal probe with campaign funds. Usually the funds are used for routine campaign legal fees.
The RNC says it has not committed to continuing to pay for Trump and his son’s legal bills as the Russia investigation continues.
Robert Mercer is “not the first person in history to use money in politics, but in my view Trump wouldn’t be President if not for Bob,” said Nick Patterson, a former senior employee at Mercer’s hedge fund, in a March interview with The New Yorker.
“Bob has used his money very effectively,” Patterson said, reffering to Trump's election win. “It doesn’t get much more effective than that.”