A former federal ethics watchdog called out President Donald Trump over his conflict of interest in promising to pay for some of his aides’ legal fees in the Russia investigation.
Trump will keep RNC donors on the hook for his legal fees but a White House official told Axios that he has “pledged” to spend the same amount of his personal money “to defray the costs of legal fees for his associates, including former and current White House aides.”
First, Trump’s “pledges” have a laughable history. Just last week the father of a soldier killed in Afghanistan revealed that Trump offered $25,000 of his personal money during a condolence call but then never sent it.
Trump previously claimed to have raised $6 million for veterans’ charities and said he spent $1 million of his own money, but it was discovered several months later that neither claim was true.
Axios notes that it’s unclear how Trump’s promised money to aides will be distributed and that $430,000 is a “relatively small amount, given the ballooning legal fees of Trump’s associates who are under the most intense investigation.”
Still, it’s an unusual gesture and potentially one rife with conflict of interest.
“A potential witness or target of an investigation (and boss of investigators) paying for legal fees of other potential witnesses or targets?” Walter Schaub, the former director of the US Office of Government Ethics, questioned on Twitter.
A potential witness or target of an investigation (and boss of investigators) paying for legal fees of other potential witnesses or targets? https://t.co/uUl8FS4YBe
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 21, 2017
Why would Trump offer to pay for his aides’ legal fees? Given that every indication shows that Trump is personally under investigation for obstructing the Russia investigation, many believe it’s to buy his staff’s silence and keep them from “flipping” on him.
“This would be a very effective way to keep them in line and keep them in hock to him,” Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell said on MSNBC. ‘If he doesn’t want people who know where the bodies are buried — if there’s bodies — to flip on him and disclose that information to Mueller, offering to pay legal bills is an effective way to keep pulling the strings.”
Meanwhile, his own legal bills keep piling up and the $430,000 in RNC spending is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to CNN, $1 of every $10 Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign has already spent has gone toward legal fees.
The campaign has spent more than $2 million on legal fees, which CNN notes is partly due to efforts to comply with record requests from special counsel Bob Mueller.
According to CNN, 24% of the campaign’s legal bills last quarter went toward bankrolling Donald Jr.’s legal fees after he got caught having a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and then blatantly lying about it.
“What this means is that people who are giving to help re-elect Trump are actually paying for legal fees — and that money will not be there during the election,” Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, told CNN.