President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is using his conservative media exposure and close relationship with President Trump for his family’s personal financial gain.
According to a report from The Washington Post, Sekulow, who is a radio host and the Chief Counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is using his position to gain millions from charities he and his family controls. The report details how his charities “brought in nearly $230 million in charitable donations from 2011 to 2015 — and millions of those dollars ended up going to the members of the Sekulow family or their companies.” According to the Post’s research into the business records and tax filings of Sekulow’s charities, $5.5 million has gone to Sekulow’s family with another $23 million going to his firms.
A large part of Sekulow’s success can be traced back to his media exposure and his close ties to the president. The report found that as “Sekulow’s exposure on television increased,” his fundraising for the organization run by he and his wife increased by ten million dollars over a two-year period. His fundraising “jumped another $10 million” as Sekulow’s role as an anti-Obama “legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach.” Sekulow’s new position as Trump’s personal lawyer could also boost his fundraising and income even further. From the Post:
As Sekulow’s exposure on television increased, CASE’s annual fundraising jumped from $14 million to $24 million over a period of about two years.
Then, during the term of President Barack Obama, Sekulow’s role as a legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach. As Sekulow questioned whether Obama’s IRS had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofit and tea party groups, revenue for CASE jumped another $10 million, eclipsing that of the ACLJ.
At the same time, the work of the ACLJ increasingly moved in step with causes of the political right.
The group joined legal challenges to Affordable Care Act mandates and Obama’s executive order on immigration. It defended an antiabortion activist who was sued in California over undercover videos at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It also argued that the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, should be overturned.
Gregory M. Lipper, a partner in private practice and former senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he saw the change in cases he fought against the ACLJ.
“We litigated against a number of religious organizations, and they all, generally, have similar or slightly different angles. But the ACLJ seemed to become much more like a movement right-wing organization,” Lipper said. “They were very noisy on Islamic terrorism . . . and they started to sound more like Fox News than focusing specifically on free speech or religious liberty issues.”
On May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Sekulow was one of the president’s first and most vocal supporters, both in television appearances and on social media.
Sekulow tweeted that Trump had made “the right decision” — and a similar assessment later came from the ACLJ’s Twitter account. “There is NO evidence of collusion between Pres #Trump and #Russia. Trump says it’s ‘a total hoax’ ” read a tweet from the nonprofit.
On June 9, a day after Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sekulow announced to his radio listeners that he had accepted a position on Trump’s personal legal team, calling it his patriotic duty to defend against “an attack on the presidency.”
Borochoff, of CharityWatch, said Sekulow’s proximity to Trump could boost fundraising.
“He has far more attention than he normally would have to raise money — so there is the question of profiting from his relation to the president,” Borochoff said. “Are people listening to his radio program because he’s the president’s adviser? Then they get hit on to donate.”
Sekulow has regularly pushed false stories and conspiracy theories to defend Trump and attack his opponents. Sekulow has defended Trump’s lie that he may have recorded conversations with former FBI Director James Come, hyped conspiracies that a “shadow government” and “deep state” operatives are out to destroy the Trump administration, and pushed the discredited conspiracy theory that a former Democratic National Committee staffer was assassinated in retaliation for allegedly being the source of leaked DNC emails. Fox News was forced to retract the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.