Legal fund in development to help Trump staff pay legal bills in Russia probe
DigitalVision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Lawyers are laying the groundwork for a new legal defense fund to aid those who have at one point served candidate and now President Donald Trump — and who have been pulled into the ongoing Russia probe.
The fund, called the Patriot Legal Expense Fund, is being looked to as a way to provide financial support for any legal bills incurred by any individual who “was an employee, consultant, fundraised or volunteer” on behalf of President Trump’s campaign, according to a document labeled “draft” that was posted on the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) website.
The document, written by lawyers from Wiley Rein LLP, is dated Jan. 29, 2018, but it is unclear who started the fund or how much in assets the funds currently hold.
However, the Trump campaign, which spent $1.1 million on legal fees last quarter, separately included a $10,000 payment to the same law firm for “legal consulting,” according to FEC filings. A source with knowledge said the campaign did hire the law firm to start the fund, but that the campaign will have no role in the day-to-day management or the funding of the project.
A current Trump campaign official declined to comment when reached by ABC News.
For its part, the OGE said in a response to Wiley Rein that they have reviewed the draft proposal, but they do “not approve or disapprove of specific legal defense funds.” That letter, signed by Acting OGE Director David Apol, further states that “if the fund is established and administered in accordance with the terms set out in the attached agreement, both the managers and the employee recipients will be in compliance” with the necessary statutes.
The document posted on the OGE website said members of the Trump administration and transition team can also benefit from the fund with some exceptions. It explicitly said President Trump and anyone in his immediate family cannot benefit from the fund.
FEC records from 2017 have shown that legal fees for some members of the first family have previously been paid by the Trump campaign committee.
The document said the fund will compensate those who incur legal expenses from the investigation being led by various congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential elections.
A representative for Wiley Rein LLP declined to comment when reached by ABC News.
The fund has been a long time coming for many individuals who have been forced to hire outside counsel as they address questions and inquiries from the various investigative bodies and face mounting legal bills.
“The fund will help many of us that never anticipated being in this situation,” a former campaign official — who faces tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills and believes they will benefit from the defense fund — told ABC News.
A source with knowledge of the fund told ABC News that the law firm worked in conjunction with the White House counsel’s office to ensure that any fund that was created would be in a position to contribute funds to the legal defense fees of current White House employees and comply with all legal and ethics concerns.
The source told ABC News the White House was unaware of who created the fund, and only dealt with the law firm.
The group established rules to vet donors, with more stringent restrictions on donors who give more than $1,000.
The chief aim appears to be to avoid creating an opportunity for someone to try and influence a federal official who benefits from the fund.
It asks those donors to attest that they are “not donating to the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC because of any potential federal government employee recipient’s official position or performance of duties,” for instance.
This is not the first time a legal defense fund has been established to aid members of a previous presidential administration or campaign in paying for legal needs. Toward the end of the Bill Clinton administration, the Clinton Legal Expense Trust was established to aid Clinton staff who were part of the Whitewater investigation, Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and Congress’ impeachment inquiry and trial.
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