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President Donald Trump's re-election campaign paid $93,000 to a law firm earlier this year to fight back against Michael Wolff's hotly debated White House tell-all book, "Fire and Fury."
Harder LLP — founded by Charles Harder, who represented pro wrestler Hulk Hogan in his case against Gawker — received two payments for its efforts on Trump's behalf. One payment of $25,000 was made in January and another for just over $68,000 was made in February, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings from the Trump campaign, released Sunday.
The payments to Harder's firm were largely in compensation for taking on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was a major source for the book, and Wolff, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Harder was hired to send cease-and-desist letters in early January to Bannon as well as to the book's publisher, Henry Holt and Co., just as the book started to make headlines ahead of its Jan. 5 publication.
In the letter to Bannon, Harder claimed the former Trump advisor broke the nondisclosure agreement he signed when he left the White House. Harder also demanded Bannon save all communications he ever had with Wolff.
Just days before the book's publication, Harder's firm called on Henry Holt and Co. to halt publication and issue a "full and complete retraction and apology" to Trump. Instead, the company published the book a few days earlier than the originally planned publication date.
According to Wolff, Bannon used the word "treasonous" to describe a meeting the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had with a Kremlin-backed lawyer at Trump Tower in 2016. Bannon also personally insulted the president's son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner, the book says.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not return requests for comment about the payments to Harder. Harder did not return repeated emails for comment. Bannon and Henry Holt and Co. also did not return requests for comment.
But the mere fact that Harder's legal fees were paid by Trump's presidential campaign, and not by Trump himself, signals that the Trump campaign is open to spending donors' money to fight what some might see as the president's own personal legal battles.
Trump is not up for re-election until November 2020, at which point nearly three years will have elapsed since "Fire and Fury" was published. Still, Trump's campaign appears poised to spend, and to raise, money as if the election were around the corner.
Sunday's filing also revealed that the Trump campaign raised $10 million during the first quarter of the year and spent about $3.9 million. Approximately 20 percent of that amount was spent on legal expenses — including the $93,000 to Harder's law firm. In total, the Trump re-election campaign reported paying eight separate law firms for work between January and March of this year.
Harder's firm — along with law firm Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha — has been part of Trump's legal battle with Daniels, but sources close to the campaign say the payments made during the first quarter were not connected to that fight. The Trump campaign paid $186,000 to Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha in the first three months of the year.
The campaign also shelled out $376,000 to the firm Jones Day, which is representing the campaign on election law and campaign finance compliance, as well as matters related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
The latest legal expense reports come as one of the president's other lawyers, Michael Cohen, is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after he paid a $130,000 settlement to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Following Sunday's filing, the Trump campaign touted the high percentage of small-dollar donors who contributed during the first part of the year.
"With 97.7 percent of our contributions from small donors, patriotic Americans throughout America are signaling their emphatic approval of Donald Trump's performance as President and his commitment to continue to Make America Great Again despite the obstruction of the President's many opponents," Michael Glassner, chief operating officer for the Trump campaign, said in a press release.