President Donald Trump
has started paying his own legal bills related to the Russia probe, rather than charging them to his campaign or the Republican National Committee, and is finalising a plan to use personal funds to help current and former White House
staff with their legal costs.
The Office of Government Ethics and a tax firm are working on a mechanism for Trump
to contribute to staffers’ legal bills that would meet regulatory and ethical standards, White House
lawyer Ty Cobb
said in an interview. The White House
is hoping the issue will be resolved shortly, said Cobb, who declined to elaborate further on the details of the plan.
While there is no law barring a president from giving gifts to those who report to him, Trump’s case raises unique questions about whether his contributions could influence the testimony of staffers, said Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics who has criticised the president over other conflicts of interest.
Cobb said the White House
is aware of the ethical questions and has been taking steps to address them in recent weeks.
“The president has assumed responsibility for his own legal fees and while he isn’t involved directly in the creation of a mechanism to take care of staffers, it is important to him that they be taken care of and whatever approach is agreed upon by OGE and relevant tax authorities be bulletproof,” said Cobb.
It is possible, however, that the final plan ethics and tax officials come up with to cover White House
staff legal costs wouldn’t allow for Trump
to make a contribution, said a person familiar with the process.