Self-described friends of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort are launching a defense fund to help pay the mounting legal bills he's incurring as a result of two looming criminal cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
A newly revealed website portrays the wealthy lobbyist and political consultant as struggling to cover his debts since prosecutors froze his bank accounts last year.
"The Defense Fund is urging anyone who values civil liberties and wishes to show the 'Deep State' that they cannot exert their will on ordinary citizens, to join them in supporting the Manafort family as they grapple against the Special Counsel to clear their name," a statement announcing the fund said. "Special Counsel
Mueller previously seized Manafort’s assets, effectively crippling his 6th amendment rights and leaving him and his family struggling to pay legal bills."
The fund's website lauds Manafort for providing "a lifetime of service" to the U.S. — a picture tough to reconcile with many media reports about the former Trump campaign leader now facing charges of bank fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. A March profile of Manafort published in the Atlantic called was titled, "The Plot Against America," and described Manafort as an "American Hustler."
The new site seeks to defend Manafort's work for and with unsavory foreign governments, by asserting that he was advancing American values or, at least, U.S. economic ties.
"In an effort to instill democratic values in other countries, this frequently meant that he would interact with politicians and businessmen who did not share in our beliefs of equal justice, human rights and free markets. However, as an experienced strategist, Paul would find ways to build bridges and create economic opportunities between these countries and the United States," the site says.
Who organized the defense fund is unclear. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the effort. Manafort and attorneys in his case are under a gag order a judge imposed last year.
The fund was announced Wednesday by a Tampa-based public relations firm, Selig Multimedia. The founder of the firm, Glenn Sleig, served for a time as a spokesman for Manafort's business associate, Trump campaign deputy and and former co-defendant, Rick Gates. Gates initially fought the charges against him but agreed in February to plead guilty to two felony counts. He is now cooperating with prosecutors from Mueller's office.
Selig was killed in June during a Taliban attack on hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. An associate at Selig's firm did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the defense fund.
Manafort has been buttressing his legal team in recent weeks, as a trial now scheduled for July 24 nears in federal court in Alexandria with another trial set for Sept. 17 in Washington.
Attorneys on Manafort's team since his first arraignment last October, Kevin Downing and Tom Zehnle, are now joined by two more recent additions to the defense team: Richard Westling and Jay Nanavati.
The defense fund's site announces no limits on who may donate or how much and appears to contemplate that foreigners may make donations, which are not tax deductible.
"Trustees may, in their discretion, reject any gifts they deem inappropriate. Donations from foreign individuals, corporations and other entities are subject to public reporting," the site says.
The statement announcing the fund said donations "beyond those necessary to cover legal expenses will be donated to the Americans for Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) so that they may continue to uphold the civil rights of ordinary citizens." A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Other pages on the fund's website say excess contributions will be sent to the Brain Trauma Foundation.