New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday he may use campaign donations to cover some of his legal fees related to an apparent federal corruption investigation into his campaign that is reportedly linked to illegal donations from Turkish officials.
“It’s going to be a combination of out-of-pocket with me or whatever the law allows me to do,” Adams said during a packed press conference at City Hall where he was peppered with questions about the investigation. He said a compliance attorney would determine whether the campaign could pay for his legal fees.
Adams, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, added that the campaign had not incurred any legal costs thus far.
Last week, federal agents seized the mayor’s phones and electronic devices on the street. The probe blew open earlier this month when the FBI raided the home of Brianna Suggs, a 25-year-old key campaign fundraiser for Adams, leading the mayor to cancel a scheduled White House meeting on the migrant crisis.
According to the New York Times, which obtained a copy of the search warrant into Suggs’ home, investigators are looking into whether the campaign received illegal donations from Turkish officials. Those donations then would have been matched 8:1 by public funds under a city program Adams’ campaign participated in.
Adams has enlisted attorneys Boyd Johnson and Brendan McGuire, who are partners at WilmerHale, an international white-collar law firm that commands among the highest attorney fees.
Johnson and McGuire did not immediately respond to an email asking how much their firm was charging the mayor and his campaign. In addition to Adams, the two are also representing Suggs — an arrangement legal experts previously told Gothamist may not be in her best interests if prosecutors charge her with any crimes.
Mitchell Epner, a lawyer with Rottenberg Lipman Rich who served as a former U.S. assistant attorney for the District of New Jersey, said partners at a firm like WilmerHale typically charge upwards of $1,500 an hour. The campaign could also rack up fees from other, non-partner attorneys working on the case.
“Fees in a case like this could easily exceed $100,000 per month,” Epner told Gothamist.
McGuire previously served as the mayor’s chief counsel in City Hall, overseeing a broad range of legal matters, before leaving in August. Prior to his government job, he spent five years at WilmerHale.
Back in 2017, taxpayers footed the majority of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $2 million bill for legal fees after he faced a federal inquiry the year before over whether some of his campaign donors received special favors from his administration.
“Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to cover the costs of representation when employees are doing their jobs, like we were,” de Blasio wrote in a statement at the time. “It’s true in the private sector and it’s true in government.”
De Blasio had initially pledged taxpayers would not be on the hook for his legal bills.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Adams and Lisa Zornberg, his current City Hall chief counsel, refused to answer questions about the investigation and the FBI’s seizure of the mayor’s devices, other than to say the mayor and his campaign were cooperating with authorities.
After the news broke that Adams’ devices had been seized, his campaign said in a statement it had “discovered that an individual had recently acted improperly.” But the campaign declined to provide specifics and the mayor declined to answer repeated questions about the investigation on Tuesday.
“We are not going to impede a federal investigation,” Zornberg said. “Let it take its course, but not in the course of the press.”
Asked how his campaign donors might feel about the possibility of paying for his legal fees, Adams touted his positive relationship with them and said some have contributed to his campaigns since he was a state senator.
“I have received nothing but support from my donor base and the countless number of people who send me either prayer hands, scriptures or words of encouragement,” Adams said. “I want to be clear: The day before this happened, I believed in God, and I believe even more in God now.”
The federal investigation is unfolding just two years into Adams’ term and as his campaign works to support his re-election in 2025. But the mayor’s critics and would-be challengers are already gearing up for the race in the wake of the ongoing probe.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is investigating whether six Adams donors used concealed donations to curry political influence. Two of those donors recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges.