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New questions surround the 'Patriot Legal Expense Fund'

With the Russia scandal intensifying, Trump World now has a legal defense fund. There are questions about its operation, however, that deserve answers.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

About a month ago, The Rachel Maddow Show was the first to report the creation of the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC. Details have been scarce, but as Donald Trump's Russia scandal has intensified, and so many people in the president's orbit have lawyered up, Trump World saw the need for a legal defense fund to help pay for the legal fees.

There was no public announcement about the fund being established, but on Tuesday, the paperwork was filed in Delaware, and the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC came into existence.

There are all kinds of questions surrounding the fund, and the Washington Post  picked up on the fact that no one on Team Trump seems eager to answer them.

A new legal defense fund designed to help defray the costs faced by aides to President Trump drawn into the various Russia investigations has yet to answer key questions regarding how it will vet donors and provide transparency about the contributors who finance the effort.The trust plans to allow both individuals and "entities" to make unlimited donations that will be pooled to defray the costs of multiple recipients, according to paperwork filed in January with the Office of Government Ethics.

At first blush, the creation of the fund may not seem especially noteworthy. The Russia scandal has cast quite a net over much of Trump World, and I'm sure many of the president's aides could use some financial assistance paying defense attorneys' bills.

But given this gang's lax approach to ethics and legal proprieties, it'd be helpful to know who's contributing to the fund, how it will distribute money, who might be deemed ineligible for assistance, and what the fund will do to ensure compliance with conflict-of-interest rules.

At least for now, those are the questions no one is answering -- and it's part of a larger pattern.

Just this week, for example, the Trump Organization said it would "donate" its foreign profits to avoid legal trouble for the president. The Washington Post reported, however, that the Trump Organization hasn't said how much money it donated. Or how it arrived at the figure. Or which foreign governments originally paid the president's businesses. Or which parts of the president's private-sector enterprise were included.

Meanwhile, Trump still won't release his tax returns. Trump's White House won't release its visitor logs. Trump's Florida resort has gone to court to keep its customer list secret. Trump's White House even tries to obscure his golfing habits.

During the debate over the "Nunes memo," White House officials said they were eager to release classified information in the interest of "transparency." The irony was rich.