Trump once tried to pay a $2 million legal bill with a horse: a book

  • In a new book, David Enrich delves deeply into the 127-year-old law firm Jones Day.
  • Donald McGahn, a partner at Jones Day, has left the company to serve as an adviser to Trump in the White House.
  • Below is an excerpt from the book in which McGahn first met Donald Trump.

In February 2015, Don McGahn arrived at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. McGahn was a prominent lawyer in conservative circles. He has spent years representing Republican political figures and issues. His crowning achievement was several years at the Federal Election Commission, where McGahn, to the delight of Republican lawmakers, helped loosen electoral spending regulations and slowed the agency’s rule-making process to a crawl.

These days, McGahn was a partner at the international law firm Jones Day, part of a new team dedicated to helping Republicans win elections and stay out of trouble. Trump, preparing to launch a nude presidential campaign, was trying to boost his credibility among conservative voters.

This is why McGahn is in Trump Tower

The lawyer rode a golden elevator up to the 26th floor and was taken to Trump’s office. Trump was sitting behind his crowded desk. After what seemed like an hour of short talks, Trump got to the heart of the matter. What do you ship? Asked.

“My hourly wage is $800,” McGann replied.

“No shit,” Trump exclaimed. “good for you.”

Later that month, Trump began taking steps to show that his easy-to-reject nomination was real. To emphasize his seriousness, he stated that he hired McGahn. “I’m not doing this for fun,” Trump said. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.” (Perhaps in a more indicative indication of his seriousness, Trump also indicated that he was delaying another season of Celebrity Apprentice, his NBC reality show.)

Servants of the Cursed Cover


Harper Collins


One day in the spring of 2015, McGahn took an aide to Jones Day to Trump Tower. Partner was eager to absorb the campaign experience, and McGahn thought the nascent Trump campaign would be an enjoyable experience for the young lawyer. Fellow will get a first-hand glimpse of how some of the no-frills campaigns work. Also, unlike those who dress professionally, Trump people wouldn’t mind having a random lawyer present. “I can’t take you to the Rick Perry campaign, because they’re serious,” McGahn told his colleague.

It was a meeting with Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager, and Alan Garten, the longtime Trump Organization executive director. After sandwiches at the Trump Grill in the lobby of the building, the men went upstairs to the nerve center of the Trump Organization. They sat in Lewandowski’s small office, down the hall from Trump’s large desk.

The meeting was completely disorganized

Lewandowski showed the new campaign letterhead, asking lawyers to contribute to their talking points on issues like abortion (Trump was previously a pro-choice).

Near the end of the meeting, Lewandowski asked how he accounted for the campaign’s use of Trump’s private jet. The campaign will have to compensate Trump for the flights; Would it have been okay if they just guessed how much each trip would cost? McGahn patiently told them that, no, they couldn’t just guess, there were rules about this, and they had to be followed.

“These guys are idiots,” McGahn told his partner afterwards. (McGann questioned the quotes attributed to him, particularly the word “moron.” He said, “I certainly have some favorite phrases, but this is not one of them.” He added that “many of the people I met in New York were sharp and impressive in their chosen fields— Although many of them had little or no political experience.”)

David Enrich

Author David Enrich.

David Enrich


On April 23, 2015, a check for $6,451.38 arrived on Jones’ Day. It was the first batch of Trump’s campaign. McGahn and his colleagues haven’t done much work for Trump yet, but it’s time to start pushing.

Trump’s reputation for failing his lawyers (and banks, contractors and clients) was well known. Trump has tried to dodge what one lawyer after another owes, from individual practitioners to partners in major corporations.

In the 1990s, a lawyer at a white shoe company did some work for Trump.

The bill came to about two million dollars, and Trump refused to pay

After a while, the lawyer got impatient, and went without warning to Trump Tower. Someone sent him to Trump’s office. At first Trump was glad to see him – he betrayed no sense of shame – but the lawyer was steaming. He reprimanded Trump, saying, “I am very disappointed.” “There’s no reason you didn’t pay us.”

Trump issued some voices of apology. Then he said, “I will not pay your bill. I will give you something more valuable.” What on earth is he talking about? asked the lawyer. “I have a stallion,” Trump continued. It’s worth $5 million. Trump searched a filing cabinet and pulled out what he said was a horse’s check. Hand it over to the lawyer.

“This is not the nineteenth century,” muttered the lawyer as soon as he regained the ability to speak. “You can’t pay me by horse.” After the attorney threatened to file a lawsuit, Trump eventually coughed up at least part of what he owed.

Jones Day also wanted him to be paid with money. So a decision was made that Trump would pay a regular employee. In addition, there will be a strict schedule for disbursing any fees or other reimbursements. (McGann said there was no unusual payment schedule, telling me, “The Trump campaign was billed in a regular order and paid regularly.”)

Even after that timetable was put in place, Jones Day’s lawyers — including some Trump campaign workers — doubted it would continue

Someone told me, “We thought he wouldn’t pay, and that would be the end of it.” But against all odds, Trump pushed and pushed again. Within a few months, he made tens of thousands of dollars — including more than $29,000 on June 16.

On the same day, McGahn returned to Trump Tower. He stood in the mezzanine of the lobby as Donald and Melania Trump descended on an escalator to a makeshift platform studded with flags, where Trump formally launched his candidacy. McGahn watched the little crowd go crazy. Then he listened to his client dealing with immigrants and the Beltway Foundation. Outside, storm clouds gathered and a light rain began to fall.

Editor’s Note: Taylor Bowdwich, a spokesman for former President Donald Trump, made this statement: “The media’s obsession with exaggerating false attacks and fake news against President Trump is embarrassing, but the truth is that today President Trump is stronger than ever and will do so. Continue He pushed his “America First” agenda through the midterm and beyond.

Adapted from the book SERVANTS OF THE DAMNED: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and Corruption of Justice by David Enrich. Copyright © 2022 by David Enrich. From Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing. Reprinted with permission.

David Enrich is the business investigative editor of The New York Times and the first bestselling author of The Black Constellations. His new book, Servants of the Damned, is now on sale.

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