Donald Trump is offering at least $430,000 of his own funds to help defray the legal costs of aides amid federal probes into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump pledged the funds after news surfaced that the Republican National Committee has paid approximately the same amount in legal fees for Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., Axios and The Washington Post reported.
Trump’s money won’t likely be used to reimburse the committee, the Post reported. Money will “defray the costs of legal fees for his associates, including former and current White House aides,” sources told Axios.
Few details are yet known about Trump’s move, such as which staffers’ costs may be covered. None of the money will be used to pay legal costs for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after less than a month in his post. He is refusing to accept any funds from Trump or the RNC, sources told Axios. The New Yorker reported last month that two of Flynn’s siblings had launched a legal defense fund for him.
In March, Flynn’s lawyer said he would testify before federal investigators in exchange for immunity, and that he “has a story to tell.”
Trump’s payment plan raises ethical questions. For one, an aide who accepted the money would be in a difficult position if he or she had pertinent information to share with a federal investigator about Trump or his son.
Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell questioned Trump’s motives.
“Maybe he feels guilty that his associates and aides are now having to bear the burdens of these bills,” she told MSNBC. “Whether or not it’s his motivation, this would be a very effective way to keep them in line and keep them in hock to him.”
She added: ’If he doesn’t want people who know where the bodies are buried — if there’s bodies — to flip on him and disclose that information ... offering to pay legal bills is an effective way to keep pulling the strings.”
Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, also underscored in a tweet the complicated conflicts such payments could trigger.
It’s unclear if the president will begin paying his own legal fees and those of his son, or will continue relying on funds from the RNC.