Trump using RNC money to pay legal fees in Russia probe

President Trump is reportedly using money from the Republican National Committee (RNC) and his reelection campaign to pay some of the legal costs surrounding the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Two payments totaling $231,250 have already been made and will be disclosed on federal election forms due on Wednesday, the RNC confirmed to The Hill. Reuters reported the payments first earlier on Tuesday.

Trump has also used money from his campaign coffers for lawyer costs associated with the Russia investigation being run by former FBI director Robert Mueller, the Reuters report said.

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Lawmakers and political officials can use their campaign accounts to pay for attorneys, as long as it stems from any work related to being a public official.

In one example, a judge last year ruled that former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) could not use his campaign funds to pay to defend the allegations he had solicited sex in an airport bathroom.

The money is not coming from the RNC's main coffer, which is used to support candidates and political campaigns, a RNC spokeswoman told The Hill.

Payments “have been paid with funds from a pre-existing legal proceedings account and do not reduce by a dime the resources we can put towards our political work,” RNC spokeswoman Cassie Smedile said.

Created by Congress two years ago, the legal proceedings account gives the Democratic and Republican Party committees the ability to raise money from donors to pay for legal fees and allows contributors to give up to $100,200.

Although it was established to help pay for the costs associated with things like election recounts, it is a relatively new fundraising vehicle and there is not much guidance for how it can be used.

Since the election, the RNC's legal proceedings account has raised about $3.35 million, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records and figures provided by the RNC set to show up in its August report on Wednesday.

After all expenditures, the account still has "millions" left over, the RNC said.

During the RNC’s summer meeting in Tennessee, the idea of paying for some of Trump's legal fees was first discussed — and committee members were split, one GOP source told The Hill on Tuesday. The Washington Post reported in July that some in Trump's orbit were pressuring Republican Party leaders to chip in.

Having the Republican Party help fund the president's legal costs associated with a criminal investigation is virtually unprecedented. But, prior to the Reuters article, the Republican source told The Hill that the RNC was likely to fall in line with whatever Trump asks.

"When it comes to the RNC, I can’t think of a time where a Republican president has expressed that something should happen and it didn’t happen," the person told The Hill earlier in the day.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in July that she was not sure whether the practice would be legal.

"I'm always going to look to support the president. But we've gotta just make sure that anything we do is legal and then we'd have to talk to people who donated to us and make sure they'd want to do it that way," she said on WMAL's "Mornings on the Mall" radio show.

"There's other ways to support the president. There's a legal defense fund that you could start. There's lots of other ways. But we, of course, support the president," she said. 

Trump’s campaign account shelled out nearly Trump disclosed $678,000 in “legal consulting” between April and June, according to a Politico tally of Federal Election Commission records, but it's unclear what kind of work the expenses were for. Campaigns pay lawyers for election law-related compliance, which are disclosed on forms.

 

— Ben Kamisar contributed to this report. It was updated at 6:50 p.m.