GOP funds Donald Trump’s defense in Russia probe with help from a handful of wealthy people

The Wall Street Journal reports: President Donald Trump’s attorneys in the probe of Russian election interference are being funded in part through a Republican Party account with a handful of wealthy donors—including a billionaire investor, a property developer seeking U.S. government visas and a Ukrainian-born American who has made billions of dollars doing business with Russian oligarchs.

The Republican National Committee, through an account typically used for its own legal bills, paid more than $300,000 last month to help cover Mr. Trump’s private legal fees, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The fund has also paid another nearly $200,000 to lawyers for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., according to a person familiar with the payments. Those expenditures will be disclosed in the RNC’s September report, the person said.

The RNC legal fund in August raised about $280,000, according to FEC filings. The previous month, that fund raised more than $700,000. Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign has also contributed to the president’s personal legal expenses.

In past administrations, private legal fees have taken a significant toll on the first family’s personal finances. When former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton left the White House in 2001, Mrs. Clinton’s financial disclosure showed they owed lawyers between $2.3 million and $10.6 million after years of scrutiny by Congress and independent counsel Ken Starr.

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, has opted not to have the campaign or the RNC pay for his private legal representation in the Russia probe, which he hired in June, nor is he having a leadership political-action committee for which he raises money foot the bill.

The RNC and campaign’s payment arrangement for Mr. Trump’s lawyers is legal. But ethics experts cautioned that Mr. Trump’s decision to rely on party and campaign accounts to pay for his attorney fees can raise thorny political issues.

“Big-dollar special interest fundraising to pay the president’s legal bills most certainly raises the threat of corruption,” said Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the nonpartisan transparency advocacy group Common Cause. “Lots of donors to the RNC are looking for access and influence. A big check for the president’s legal bills is one more way to do it.” [Continue reading…]

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