The Trump campaign is halting its legal payments for Donald Trump Jr., a Bloomberg report revealed on Monday night. So far, the president’s eldest son has racked up more than half a million dollars in legal bills and attorney fees related to the ongoing Russia investigation.
According to a “person familiar with the matter” who spoke with Bloomberg reporters, the campaign is instead “setting up a legal defense fund to cover the costs for him and other campaign staffers related to investigations.” The fund is separate from the campaign coffers, which are largely made up of donations from private citizens, many of whom have contributed less than $200. A legal defense fund would have no limit on the amount it could raise, while campaign contributions are capped.
“The campaign fund would likely only be for people employed by the Trump campaign… although the details are still being negotiated,” the report stated. “That arrangement could exclude some high-profile figures who were never paid, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was charged with money laundering, and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.”
It’s unclear whether the president will pay into the legal fund, but doing so could be unethical. As former Office of Government Ethics head Walter Shaub noted, contributions from the president would raise “unique questions”, since they could arguably be used to “influence the testimony of staffers” who are interviewed by Congress or Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Speaking with Bloomberg last week, White House special counsel Ty Cobb claimed he was “aware” of the ethical dilemma and insisted the president would not be involved in the legal fund’s creation. (Cobb did not specify whether the president would be barred from paying into the fund, however.)
“…He isn’t involved directly in the creation of a mechanism to take care of staffers,” Cobb said, “[but] it is important to him that they be taken care of and whatever approach is agreed upon by OGE and relevant tax authorities be bulletproof.”
The news comes on the heels of increased scrutiny over RNC payments to Trump and his associates for hundreds of thousands in legal fees. According to FEC filings, the committee’s legal fund — which itself is funded by wealthy RNC donors — paid some $230,000 to two of the president’s lawyers, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, and, in coordination with the Trump campaign, has paid out more than $500,000 for Trump Jr. alone.
Speaking with CNN, Cobb declined to clarify whether or not Trump or his son would be reimbursing the RNC for its initial payouts.
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo — who was previously responsible for improving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s image in the United States, and who is currently facing his own set of legal woes in relation to the Mueller investigation — believes that it’s the RNC’s duty to cover legal fees for the president.
“I think it’s a responsibility of everyone in the Republican Party to take care of the President and his family first,” Caputo told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond. “They didn’t sign up for this bogus investigation and it’s our responsibility to protect him as much as we can.”
The payment arrangement to cover Trump Jr.’s bills seems to have stalled this week following news that the president himself had begun paying for his own legal fees. “[The president] does not want to deplete any funds that may be available to assist current and former staffers,” Cobb said in a statement at the time.
Congressional committee interviews typically cost their subjects around $30,000 in legal expenses, and with the Russia investigation gaining speed, mounting bills could create a massive burden for White House and former campaign staffers.
The fees will instead be covered under the campaign’s new legal fund and a separate fund created specifically for White House staffers in coordination with the Office of Government Ethics for current White House staffers. According to Cobb, the latter operation is “expected to be operational shortly.”
The timing is fitting, given recent developments involving both Trump Jr. and current White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who also served as an adviser to the Trump campaign. On November 13, The Atlantic published a report detailing several private Twitter messages between Trump Jr. and anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks, which investigators believed disseminated information obtained from Russian hackers during the election. Although many of the conversations appeared to be one-sided, both Trump Jr. and his father did act on a number of suggestions sent by WikiLeaks. In one particular instance, the president’s son tweeted a link provided to him directly from WikiLeaks, which led to the site’s search archive.
“For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy [involving the Clinton campaign and the newly-leaked Podesta emails], all the @wikileaks emails are right here,” he tweeted.
Kushner has also come under fire by congressional investigators who claim he has not been forthcoming about the campaign’s involvement with WikiLeaks. While Kushner previously claimed he had not been aware of any staffers who had made contact with the website or its founder, Julian Assange, a trove of previously unreleased documents proved he had both received and forwarded an email from Trump Jr. regarding the Twitter messages specifically.
Kushner has also been criticized by Senate Judiciary members for failing to disclose documents that revealed attempted meddling by individuals connected to the Kremlin.