The RNC sent $131,250 to Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow
The group also sent $100,000 to John Dowd, the attorney Trump hired in June
The Republican National Committee spent more than $230,000 in August to cover some of President Donald Trump’s legal fees associated with the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an RNC official told CNN on Tuesday.
The RNC paid Trump’s personal attorneys Jay Sekulow and John Dowd $131,250 and $100,000, respectively, via their law firms, the official said. The fees to Sekulow’s law firm covered work by other attorneys at his firm, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a person familiar with the payments said.
The payments will be disclosed in the RNC’s spending report for the month of August, which the committee plans to release on Wednesday.
The RNC has also begun to foot the legal payments of Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. The committee paid nearly $200,000 of Trump Jr.’s legal bills related to the Russia investigation, which he became embroiled in in part due to his meeting with an attorney he believed would provide him damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
Trump Jr.’s attorneys Alan Futerfas and the law firm Williams & Jensen have been paid $166,527.50 and $30,102.90, respectively, this month, two RNC officials said. The payments will not appear in the RNC’s August campaign finance disclosure scheduled for Wednesday, but on the next month’s disclosure.
Reuters first reported on Tuesday that the RNC was helping Trump with his legal payments associated with the special counsel’s investigation. CNN first obtained the total amount of the RNC’s spending on Trump’s legal bills.
The President and his son’s legal bills were covered through the RNC’s legal defense fund – not its political coffers – which the RNC official said was established in 2014 to cover legal fees associated with election-related litigation. Wealthy donors to the RNC typically donate to such funds when making large contributions.
The RNC’s payments to cover Trump’s legal bills come despite the President’s claims that his net worth is in excess of $10 billion.
The party official said the committee has not yet decided whether it will continue to make payments to cover the President’s legal bills.
The RNC is just the latest Trump-supporting political group to get involved in making legal payments related to the Russia probe.
Last quarter, the Trump campaign spent more than $677,826 on legal fees. Though it’s unclear what portion of those fees are going to attorney fees related to the Russia investigation, the campaign has employed attorneys to comply with Russia-related requests and has also made payments to the attorney representing the President’s son Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia probe.
The Trump campaign spent nearly $700,000 in legal consulting fees – or about 15.5% of its total expenses between April 1 and June 30, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report.
The RNC’s first payments to foot the President’s legal bills came three months after Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department to serve as special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, including allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Trump has vehemently denied any collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.
The investigation has since expanded to look into questions of whether the President has sought to obstruct the investigation, stemming from his firing of FBI Director James Comey and alleged urging that Comey drop the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Ty Cobb, the White House’s special counsel, referred questions about the payments to the President’s personal attorneys, Dowd and Sekulow.
Dowd and Sekulow did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The party’s payments came a month after RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in an interview the group would have to look into whether it could legally pay the President’s legal bills related to the investigation.
“First of all, I don’t even know if that’s legal, if we would even be allowed to do that,” Romney McDaniel said in a July radio interview. “So there’s just nothing that I can comment on on that front right now. So that would have to go through the lawyers first before it would come to us.”
Trump’s decision to allow the RNC to make legal payments on his behalf makes him the first president to use a party committee’s funds to pay legal bills related to a federal investigation.
President Bill Clinton established legal defense funds to solicit donations for his legal payments stemming from the independent counsel investigation he faced as president.
The RNC is subject to more restrictions on donations and greater reporting requirements than a personal legal fund would need to be, said Lawrence Noble, the former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission.
“When you’re talking about the legal funds, some of the rules are a little squishier, a little vaguer about what you can do,” said Noble, the senior director and general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “The rules are stricter giving to the RNC.”
It’s possible Trump could still set up a legal defense fund to pay for his legal bills in the future, Noble said.
Still, the use of any outside group undoubtedly raises questions about why a multi-billionaire needs use outside money to pay his legal bills.
But Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who has struggled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees related to the investigation, said Trump should be entitled to receive legal funds from the RNC.
“I think it’s a responsibility of everyone in the Republican Party to take care of the President and his family first. They didn’t sign up for this bogus investigation and it’s our responsibility to protect him as much as we can,” Caputo said.
“I don’t think the President being a billionaire disqualifies him from the full support of the Republican Party,” he added.