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Trump Re-Election Campaign Pays For Trump Jr.'s Lawyer

Jul 19, 2017
Originally published on July 19, 2017 5:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well, it's a great time to be a lawyer in Washington, D.C. As investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election continue, more officials are lawyering up. President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, Vice President Pence and others have expanded their legal teams. So who pays the legal bills? Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The latest Trump associate to hire a lawyer is the president's son. Trump spoke up for Donald Trump Jr. last week in Paris.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a son who's a great young man. He's a fine person. He took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period, and nothing came of the meeting.

OVERBY: Given Trump's wealth, it might seem logical that he would cover the legal bills. Here's Trump back in June 2015, when he announced for president.

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TRUMP: Because I don't need anybody's money - it's nice. I don't need anybody's money. I'm using my own money. I'm not using the lobbyists. I'm not using donors. I don't care. I'm really rich.

OVERBY: But last month, it was Trump's 2020 re-election campaign that paid $50,000 to Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer. About 75 percent of the campaign contributions this year have come from small donors. Larry Noble is general counsel at the watchdog group The Campaign Legal Center.

LAWRENCE NOBLE: It's legal for the campaign to pay any legal expenses arising out of the campaign. What's interesting here is that the payment was made prior to any public disclosure of the emails from Donald Trump Jr.

OVERBY: That is, the emails revealing that Trump Jr. met in 2016 with a Russian lawyer offering opposition research on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Also this month, President Trump hired another lawyer for the White House Counsel's office, which provides his official legal defense. Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained it this way at Monday's press briefing.

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SEAN SPICER: It was the decision of the White House to bring someone on board that - like in a lot of other areas that we have counsels dedicated to that - that there was significant interest in the subject to do that.

OVERBY: The White House Counsel's office is taxpayer funded. Trump has a platoon of private lawyers, too. There's no indication of how much they're being paid or by whom. This kind of legal work doesn't come cheap. When President Bill Clinton survived impeachment and finished his term, newly elected Senator Hillary Clinton disclosed they owed lawyers somewhere between 3 million and $11 million.

Now there's likely to be more lawyering up among White House staffers. They're not represented by the White House Counsel's office, says Nancy Kassop, a political scientist who's studied it.

NANCY KASSOP: No (laughter). During the Clinton process, I know that there was, you know, great consternation when White House staff members were told that they had to provide for their own legal representation.

OVERBY: A long-lasting memory of their time in the White House. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "BA TEACHES YOGA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.