Many of President Donald Trump’s top aides have lately found themselves at the center of a wide-ranging criminal investigation run by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Defending yourself in this sort of matter can be extremely expensive. Those in need of a top-flight white collar criminal attorney can expect to be charged upwards of $750 an hour. And this isn’t the type of situation where you want to shop around for a discount.
Trump, however, is offering a select few aides a solution to this problem. The Washington Post reports, citing new Federal Election Commission filings, that the Republican Party is helpfully picking up the legal bills for some of Trump’s top aides, including former Communications Director Hope Hicks.
The Republican National Committee paid nearly half a million dollars to a law firm that represents former White House communications director Hope Hicks and others in the Russia investigations, according to a new federal filing.
The RNC’s $451,780 payment to Trout Cacheris & Janis adds to the mounting legal fees associated with the investigations by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and several congressional committees of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Hicks hired Robert Trout, founder of the law firm, as her personal attorney in September, according to news reports.
There is nothing fundamentally improper about engaging a third-party to cover legal expenses. But the RNC stepping in to foot the legal bills for some of Trump’s top aides creates powerful incentives for their behavior.
Hope Hicks, for example, has emerged as a key figure in a potential obstruction of justice case against Trump. Donald Trump Jr. has said that, when he was crafting a series of misleading public statements about his meetings in Trump Tower, Hope Hicks was potentially passing along input from his father. In all likelihood, Hicks knows exactly what Trump’s role was in this effort, which has reportedly become a focus of the Mueller investigation.
As you might recall, Hicks has previously admitted to telling “white lies” on behalf of Trump.
Like others enmeshed in Mueller’s probe, Hicks faces a series of strategic choices. She can fully cooperate with Mueller in exchange for immunity from any potential criminal charges. Or she can take a harder line, complying with any legal requests but not providing any more information than absolutely necessary.
Thus far, Hicks appears to be taking the latter route. For example, in her Congressional testimony, she “refused to tell House panel whether she had lied for senior Trump officials.”
It’s not hard to imagine that the RNC’s subsidizing of Hicks’ legal bills could influence her decision-making. The Republican Party, now that Trump is president, is effectively an extension of Trump’s political operation. If Trump did not want the RNC to pay Hope Hicks’ legal bills, the party would not do so.
Of course, just because the RNC has paid her legal bills to date, does not mean that they will continue to pick up the tab in perpetuity. If it came out that Hicks’ had “flipped” and was fully cooperating with Mueller, would the RNC continue to pay her bills? It would seem unlikely. In that scenarior, Hicks would be left with potentially crippling legal debt and the possibility that she’d be unable to secure competent counsel.
The RNC, notably, is not paying the legal bills for Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos or others who are cooperating with Mueller.
To be clear, there is no evidence that Hicks has been told that the Republican Party will only pay her legal bills if she protects Trump’s interests. That said, Hicks is likely to get the message without anyone saying anything.