US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence speak to the press on August 10, 2017, at Trump's Bedminster National Golf Club in New Jersey before...
NICHOLAS KAMM

Trump uses RNC donor money to pay his Russia scandal legal bills

As the Russia scandal has intensified in recent months, Donald Trump has been forced to assemble an outside legal team, featuring a curious mix of attorneys who keep making embarrassing mistakes. What we didn’t know until yesterday, however, is who’s paying their bills.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/19/17, 9:05 PM ET

Trump paying Russia scandal legal bills with RNC donor money

Rachel Maddow shares new reports that Donald Trump is using money donated to the Republican National Committee to pay for lawyers for himself, family and staffers in the Trump Russia investigation.
Many assumed the president himself was footing the bill for his own legal team – as a self-professed billionaire, he can afford it – but as Reuters was first to report, it looks like Trump prefers to have Republican donors pick up at least some of the tab.

U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump’s legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner.

As Rachel noted on last night’s show, no other American president has ever used donor money this way – a decision made all the more curious given Trump’s vast independent wealth.

Making matters slightly worse, the Wall Street Journal reported overnight that the Republican National Committee has also helped pay for the legal defense of Donald Trump Jr.

Putting aside whether Republican donors will be comfortable with their contributions being used this way, is it legal for Trump to divert campaign money to his lawyers?

The answer is almost certainly yes. Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney, explained on the show last night that this arrangement may be bizarre, but campaign money is routinely used to pay lawyers – though in most cases, the lawyers are hired to deal with election-related issues such as possible recounts, not a counter-espionage investigation into the president’s political operation.

McQuade added this probably falls into the “awful, but lawful” category.

Donald Trump, Fundraising, RNC and Scandals

Trump uses RNC donor money to pay his Russia scandal legal bills