Can Trump Legally Use Campaign Money To Pay For His Russia Lawyers?
On Tuesday, an exclusive report from Reuters shed some light on one a lingering question relating to President Donald Trump and the ongoing investigation by independent counsel Robert Mueller. Namely, according to the report, Trump is paying for his lawyers on the Russia case with both campaign cash and money taken from the Republican National Committee. Which raises another, pretty simple question: is that legal? It doesn't exactly sound legal, sure, but is it?
The answer, strange as it might sound, is yes. According to Reuters, the Federal Elections Commission does indeed allow campaign funds to be used to pay for a politician's legal defense, so long as the legal issue somehow relates to their being a political office-holder or a candidate. Which means, assuming the veracity of the reporting, Trump isn't doing anything legally objectionable.
It is highly unusual, however. In fact, more than unusual; according to the report, legal experts have told Reuters this would the first time in the modern era that a president has used campaign donations and/or party money to defend themselves from a criminal inquiry. The payments will reportedly be made available through public filings ― there won't be any attempt to keep this a secretive matter, in other words.
It's not hard to see why Trump would be needing to pay some lawyers right now, what with the many reports of an ever-widening investigation on Mueller's part. In addition to reportedly looking into the Trump Organization's business dealings and finances, it was reported this week that Mueller's team informed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that he was likely to be indicted prior to a surprise pre-dawn raid on his home in Virginia back in July. No indictment has yet occurred, however.
Furthermore, people within Trump's inner circle have reportedly been lawyering up in recent months, too. That draws a sharp contrast between how Trump himself is reportedly handling his legal bills and how the people around him are ― while he's allowed to use campaign money for his own defense, that's not an option that's open to other White House staffers and officials.
It's a marked departure from how former president Bill Clinton handled his soaring legal fees during his sex scandal and subsequent impeachment proceedings. As the exclusive Reuters report notes, Clinton raised funds from supporters to pay his legal bills, and nonetheless ended up racking up millions of dollars worth of debt, money he ultimately paid off after becoming a highly paid speaker following his presidency.
While it's too early to say with any certainty whether the Mueller investigation will implicate Trump in any serious wrongdoing ― he's been insisting the whole thing is "fake news" and a "ruse" for months ― it seems clear given the recent re-making of his legal team that he's taking it seriously.
At present, following a shakeup that saw the removal of his previous top lawyer Marc Kasowitz his team is headed up by longtime Washington attorney John Dowd, and includes Ty Cobb, who's managing the administration's outward responses to the investigation. Both men were caught in an embarrassing snafu this week, when they were overheard discussing the case by journalist Ken Vogel at a D.C. eatery.
In short, for Trump at least, it sounds like those legal bills are going to be pretty easily paid ― assuming the veracity of Reuters' report, of course. As it stands now, however, there's not much more any observer or follower of the Mueller investigation can do, besides sit and wait for the latest development from the probe, or for the next response from the Trump administration.