As a businessman, Donald Trump prided himself on using other people’s money, from stiffing vendors to tapping his “charitable” foundation to buy himself things. Now he is doing something similar in his legal battles in the face of Congressional probes and a Special Counsel’s investigation.
Trump likes to brag about being a billionaire but he isn’t reaching into his own pocket to pay the mounting legal fees in the ongoing probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Instead, Trump is paying his legal bills out of the money he has raised for his campaign for the 2020 presidential election, and money raised by the Republican National Committee, according to a report by Reuters.
Trump filed for re-election in 2020 almost as soon as he was elected, the earlier declaration ever by a sitting president about his plans for re-election. That has opened up loopholes which allow him to raise and spend campaign money, including on legal bills.
Which means that the sale of the $40 hats that he was promoting during his Hurricanes Harvey and Irma relief visits were going directly to his legal defense fund.
What Trump is doing is marginally legal, but it is unusual if not unprecedented.
U.S. election laws allow a candidate to use private campaign funds to pay legal bills that arise from being a candidate or elected official.
If Trump had taken public financing for his campaigns, he would not be able to spend that money on a potential criminal investigation of his activities that could lead to criminal charges.
“While previous presidential campaigns have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements,” reports Reuters, “Trump would be the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe, said election law experts.”
Sources said the first payments have been made to Trump’s lawyers already and that the spending will eventually be included in campaign finance disclosures, although Trump’s lawyer told Reuters, “That’s none of your business.”
The Republican National Committee is due to make its August spending public as soon as tomorrow, while the Trump campaign must make a disclosure in mid-October.
There are already early reports on what the RNC will admit it has spent.
NEW: RNC spent $230,000+ to cover @realDonaldTrump's legal fees tied to Russia probe. $131,250 to Sekulow. $100K to Dowd, per RNC official
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) September 19, 2017
Trump’s legal team has grown and changed over recent months. He hired his longtime New York City attorney Marc Kasowitz to head his defense team in May, but Kasowitz quit in July, after which John Dowd took over as the lead lawyer.
Also on Trump’s payroll is Jay Sekulow, a controversial “constitutional” lawyer; and Special White House counsel Ty Cobb.
The law firm Jones Day has collected almost $4 million, according to campaign filings examined by Reuters, mostly for typical campaign expenses like filings, vendor contracts and compliance with state and federal laws. It has also acted on Trump’s behalf in some Russia-related issues, including providing documents to Congressional investigators.
The Trump Campaign has also paid $50,000 to attorney Alan Futerfas’s law firm for his representation of Donald Trump Jr., according to a July campaign finance disclosure.
President Richard Nixon was known to his political enemies as “Tricky Dick,” and it is becoming clear it is just as appropriate to refer to Trump ss “Tricky Don,” because he finds so many ways to manipulate the public money trough.
People who have donated to Trump’s campaign or the RNC’s fund for campaigns might be surprised to learn how their money is being spent because it is unusual in American history to use it for these kinds of legal bills.
Trump keeps setting new precedents but few if any are the kind even he would want to brag about, and we all know how much he loves to brag.