Trumpworld Lawyers Keep Getting Stiffed on Fees

Robert Costello represented Giuliani and Bannon. Neither paid him.

Trump stiffing Giuliani has trickled down through the Trumpworld legal ecosystem.Evan Vucci/AP

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Working as Donald Trump’s lawyer, or just being his lawyer’s lawyer, is a tough gig. The former president’s tight-fisted ways, not to mention his legal problems, are trickling down through Trumpworld’s legal ecosystem.

On Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, sued the former New York mayor for more than $1.3 million in allegedly unpaid legal fees dating back to 2019. That lawsuit, Costello says, is a consequence of Trump’s own refusal to pay Giuliani for years of work as Trump’s personal attorney.

Lawyers for Trump have landed in legal jeopardy due to his lies. They’ve been forced to testify against him, sanctioned, fined, stripped of law licenses, sued, and indicted. But none are in as much trouble as Rudy.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty to 13 racketeering and conspiracy charges in Georgia for alleged interference in that state’s election. He was also found liable for defaming two Georgia election workers and will likely be ordered to pay them damages. He’s an unindicted co-conspirator in the US Justice Department’s criminal case against Trump related to January 6. His law license is suspended in New York, and he could be disbarred in DC. A former assistant says in a lawsuit that Giuliani raped her. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, in a new book, claims he groped her on January 6. An FBI agent says a bureau investigation found Giuliani “may have been compromised” by Russian intelligence while he assisted Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Giuliani denies any wrongdoing related to each of these allegations. A spokesperson for him called Hutchinson’s claims “a disgusting lie.”

Giuliani encountered many of those problems while he was working for Trump—apparently with a hope, but not an enforceable promise, of remuneration. The former president not only contributed to Giuliani’s fall from famed prosecutor to defendant, but has mostly declined to pay his legal fees. Costello’s suit against Giuliani—his former client—came after he personally accompanied Giuliani to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago headquarters in an attempt to get the president to pay up. Trump, who has previously used a PAC he controls to pay some of what he owes Giuliani, along with others, reportedly recently raised around $1 million at a fundraiser aimed at helping Giuliani. 

It’s not clear if Giuliani has received any of that money. But he clearly has not paid Costello. Giuliani complained in a statement Tuesday that Costello’s bill “is way in excess to anything approaching legitimate fees.” Still, Costello said in an interview that the reason his former client hasn’t paid him is “because he hasn’t been paid by Donald Trump.”

Giuliani is the second high-profile client Costello has sued this year. The other is Steve Bannon. Costello’s firm, Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron, in February sued Bannon—who was convicted last year of contempt of Congress (he’s appealing) and indicted in New York for defrauding a nonprofit (he pleaded not guilty)—for more than $480,000 in unpaid fees. Costello also represented Bannon in 2020 following his federal indictment on similar fraud charges, prior to Trump pardoning Bannon. A federal judge in July ordered Bannon to pay up. So far Bannon has apparently not done so.

“We’ll get it, but not yet,” Costello said Tuesday.

Costello, whose biography touts his 40-plus year of litigation experience, told me Tuesday that Bannon was the first client “I’ve ever had to sue for fees.” Giuliani was the second.

Bannon and a Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Costello, like Giuliani, has participated in some of his client’ legally risky activities. In 2020, Costello received a copy of Hunter Biden’s hard drive from John Paul Mac Issac, the owner of a Delaware computer repair shop where Hunter reputedly left his laptop and failed to pick it up. Costello passed it on to Giuliani, who worked with Bannon to publicize much of the material. Hunter Biden, represented by high-powered lawyer Abbe Lowell, has threatened to sue Costello, along with others involved in revealing contents of the device. Lowell recently followed up on some of those threats, suing a former Trump aide involved in distributing laptop material. He also sued the IRS over two agents’ revelations about Hunter’s alleged nonpayment of taxes.

Costello said he is not concerned by the lawsuit threat. And he said he does not regret his work for Giuliani and Bannon, even though they stiffed him. He said he believed in that work, maintaining that his former clients are being persecuted for their politics.

“The whole idea here is to bleed people associated with Donald Trump dry financially,” he said. “That is a way to cancel them.”

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