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Exclusive-Hotelier Robert Bigelow gives Trump $1 million for legal fees

By Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -Hotelier Robert Bigelow told Reuters on Tuesday he gave Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump $1 million for his legal fees and agreed to donate another $20 million to a pro-Trump outside group for campaign purposes.

"I gave him $1 million towards his legal fees a few weeks ago. I made a promise to give him $20 million more, that will be to the super PAC," the Nevada-based owner of Budget Suites of America said in an interview.

The commitments, which have not been previously reported, show some big money is coalescing around Trump, the runaway frontrunner to clinch the Republican presidential nomination to face Democrat Joe Biden in the November general election.

Bigelow's donations also highlight the unusual role some political donors are playing as Trump faces four pending criminal cases this year.

Those cases include two over his efforts to reverse his 2020 presidential election loss, one over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office and another over his hush money payments to a porn star.

Bigelow, who also founded Bigelow Aerospace and funds investigations into extraterrestrial life, said he felt Trump was being unfairly targeted in the criminal cases and that his sympathy towards the former president had motivated the donation.

"I was just sympathetic. They didn't solicit anything from me," Bigelow said. The $20 million would be spread out but "starts right away," he added.

The Justice Department says it acts without political bias.

All of Trump's Republican rivals, bar former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have dropped out of the race, and Trump is all but assured of clinching the nomination.

Trump and his team have been seeking to peel wealthy benefactors away from Haley, making calls trying to convince donors to switch sides. Trump has gone so far as to warn the donors they would be banished from his orbit if they made further donations.

Bigelow initially backed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination, but dropped him in part over his strict anti-abortion policies.

BILLS AND FINES

For all of Trump's political success, however, his legal costs are rapidly mounting.

Trump was hit last week with an $83 million verdict in a defamation case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, and a judge is set to rule any day now on the New York Attorney General’s request for $370 million in penalties for his misrepresentations to banks about his net worth.

The New York Times reported earlier on Tuesday that pro-Trump groups spent some $50 million on legal bills and "investigation-related" expenses in 2023. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm that figure.

Bigelow said he could not remember the exact name of the entity to which he sent the $1 million, but Trump's Save America PAC has been an important vehicle for paying his legal fees. When asked whether he was considering donating more to help pay Trump's legal fees, Bigelow declined to comment.

Bigelow said he had dinner with Trump on Monday night at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.

"It was supposed to be one hour. It was over two hours. And we still ran out of time," Bigelow said, declining to provide details of their conversation.

Bigelow said he was concerned about turmoil in the Middle East and felt confident in Trump's capacity to navigate crises given his 2017-2021 term in the White House.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Ross Colvin and Stephen Coates)