A billionaire Democratic megadonor on Friday defended his bankrolling of a rape lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, raising questions about why the accuser's attorneys are still trying to keep documents about the funding arrangement a secret and why the judge presiding over the case agreed to seal them.
Reid Hoffman, a founder and former executive chairman of LinkedIn, wrote in an online post that he's backing E. Jean Carroll's lawsuit against Trump.
"While Trump's legal team has characterized my support of Carroll's lawsuit as 'secret,' I want to be clear that I've never taken any steps to hide the financial support that I have provided to this lawsuit after it started," wrote Hoffman. "Secondly, and more importantly, while media attention is focused on this specific story, let's not forget the overall point: the rule of law and the ideal that our courts are a mechanism of justice for all citizens, not just those with enough money and power to rig the game in their favor."
Carroll, a journalist and advice columnist, accused Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store changing room in the 1990s. Trump denied the allegations and called Carroll a liar. In response, Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against the former president that remains pending, and a battery lawsuit scheduled to begin trial next week in Manhattan federal court. Lawyers for Trump tried unsuccessfully to delay the case.
Hoffman wrote that in addition to Carroll, he's supported several other "grantees," listing other examples of litigation that he's backing.
"In and out of court, women have been one of the main groups that Trump has singled out," the megadonor wrote on LinkedIn. "Trump’s hostility to women has been a dominant feature of his ideology for his entire adult life. Supporting women fighting for progress and justice in philanthropy, politics, and business has been a longstanding priority of mine, as is supporting America against the threat of Trump — a stance that I've not only made public, but also have prioritized over recent years. . . . I have been proud to help level the playing field in the courts for those whom Trump and his allies have attacked and bullied."
Despite Hoffman's admission that he has been bankrolling Carroll's lawsuit, a federal judge agreed to seal material containing details about the funding.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with a request from Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, to keep the related documents under seal, including future filings and hearings about the issue.
"The interest in public access here is minimal, particularly given that the parties' previous on-the-record filings already afforded the public meaningful access to information about this otherwise irrelevant and tangential topic," wrote Kaplan, who noted that some files may be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Kaplan argued that jurors have no business knowing who is funding the lawsuit, claiming that whoever may be financially supporting the legal bills "has nothing directly to do with the ultimate merits" of the case.
Hoffman, one of Silicon Valley's top donors to Democratic campaigns and political action committees, has donated millions of dollars to left-wing groups. Fox News Digital has previously reported that his money also goes into non-traditional groups that aren't mandated to report their funding and often operate in the shadows. He was forced to issue an apology in 2018 for funding a group that falsely tried to give an impression that the Russian government was supporting Alabama Republican Roy Moore in a 2017 special Senate election.
Trump's trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on Tuesday, and Kaplan warned that revealing details about financial backing could end up compromising her client.
"Evidence that is inadmissible at trial should not be unnecessarily entered into the public record just before this highly watched trial is to begin," she wrote, adding that it could cause "unfair prejudice and confusion."
Alina Habba, an attorney representing Trump in the lawsuit, told Business Insider that she would oppose the judge's decision to seal the documents.
It's unclear why Judge Kaplan, who is not Carroll's lawyer, would keep the materials a secret from the public, given that Hoffman's role as financial backer is public knowledge.
Earlier this month, Habba asked the judge to delay the trial and reopen the discovery process in the case, explaining that Carroll's legal team had disclosed that a nonprofit funded by Hoffman — American Future Republic — had given money to Kaplan's law firm.
The funding was "particularly relevant in the instant matter given the political overtones of this case" and Trump's 2024 presidential campaign, Habba argued.
In a different court filing, Kaplan explained that her firm was paid on a contingency basis for the lawsuit and that funding from Hoffman's nonprofit was used only to pay "certain costs and fees in connection with the firm's work on Carroll's behalf." Kaplan added that Carroll didn't personally communicate with the nonprofit or its financial backers.
"The resources that Ms. Carroll's counsel were able to secure obviously have nothing to do with what happened at Bergdorf Goodman and whether Donald Trump lied about Ms. Carroll starting in June 2019 when this dispute began," wrote Kaplan, appearing to acknowledge that her firm either solicited or accepted unknown sums of money from the Democratic megadonor.
The judge refused to delay the trial but allowed Trump's lawyers to question Carroll about whether she knew about the funding, saying that jurors could find the question relevant when evaluating her credibility.
The deadline for additional discovery passed earlier this week.
It's unclear whether Trump will attend the trial. The judge isn't forcing him to do so, and the former president's attorneys haven't said yet whether their client will be there.