An expanding special counsel probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged Russian ties has saddled many of President Trump’s current and former associates with hefty legal fees and few options for footing the bill. (AP Photos)
An expanding special counsel probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged Russian ties has saddled many of President Trump’s current and former associates with hefty legal fees and left them few options for footing the bill.
More than a dozen people, including the president and vice president, are known to have hired attorneys to help them navigate special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and several additional probes in Congress. Some have complained about the burden of paying for their legal bills without assistance from the wealthy president whose campaign is in the crosshairs of federal investigators.
“It’s very expensive and nobody’s called me and offered to help,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser who has been contacted by congressional investigators, told the Washington Examiner.
“The problem is, it’s very specialized representation, so it takes a certain type of attorney, and they’re quite competent. And you’ll pay for competency,” Caputo said.
The former Trump communications adviser said he has hired a New York-based attorney near his hometown of East Aurora, N.Y., which has helped him save moderately on costs by allowing him to confer locally rather than travel back and forth to Washington, D.C.
But Caputo said he still had to liquidate his children’s college fund to pay the tab for his lawyer.
And his mounting legal fees, which could grow larger depending on whether Mueller’s team reaches out to him, are not the only sources of financial strain Caputo said the Russia investigation has imposed on him.
“I have the associate costs of being in the spotlight of a bogus investigation, so I have security costs now,” Caputo said, noting that his family has received “death threats” as a result of his media exposure. “We’ve had to install security. I’ve had to take security precautions at both my home and at my office, and with my children, so these all add up very quickly.”
Caputo described the Russia probe as politically motivated and argued Trump’s opponents will not stop until “there’s a smoking crater where he once stood.”
“This can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for people, and that’s where destroying people comes in,” Caputo said.
Another former campaign hand said Trump “has hung us out to dry” by leaving associates to drown in their attorneys’ fees.
“Multibillionaire Donald Trump has a moral obligation to pay the mounting legal bills of his advisers who are facing four-, five- and six-figure costs just for doing their jobs,” said a former Trump adviser who had to pay thousands of dollars of his own money for legal representation.
“After all, the reason Trump advisers have any legal bills at all is because Trump and key spokespersons like Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway repeatedly misled the public over Russia contacts, no matter how benign,” the former adviser told the Washington Examiner. “Such lies gave congressional and federal investigators, let alone the media, probable cause to destroy our lives at will. Some reward for loyal service to President Trump.”
The former adviser, who declined to be named to speak candidly about finances and his involvement in the investigation, said he hired an attorney after multiple congressional committees contacted him about his time on the Trump campaign. The lawyer cost him $500 an hour, the adviser said, and quickly racked up thousands of dollars in costs after helping him prepare documents to turn over to Congress and accompanying him to two lengthy interviews with congressional committees.
“I entertained the idea of billing the re-election campaign for my legal bills,” the former adviser said. “But then, I don’t want to incur the wrath of the White House.”
A spokesman for Trump’s re-election campaign did not respond to a request for comment about whether the campaign has helped pay for the lawyers of former Trump associates. The Republican National Committee, which has faced pressure to help current and former Trump aides with their legal bills, declined to comment.
A source familiar with the situation said staffers who have left the White House, such as former chief of staff Reince Priebus, are “on their own” when it comes to representation in the special counsel probe. Trump has hired several attorneys to shepherd him through the investigation, and one — Ty Cobb — has even moved into the West Wing to oversee his response to the probe.
Priebus is among several aides who Mueller has requested to interview over his involvement in crafting a misleading statement about a meeting Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, took with a Russian lawyer who claimed during the campaign to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Although all participants in the meeting — which Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, also attended — say the lawyer offered no dirt on Trump’s Democrat rival, the statement Trump Jr. initially released in July falsely suggested the meeting had always been intended to focus on Russian adoptions.
Priebus has hired an attorney to guide him through the investigation, Law360 reported this week. Trump’s former chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment.
Donald McGahn, White House counsel, hired the same lawyer this week to advise his own interactions with Mueller’s team.
The two are just the latest figures in Trump’s orbit to hire attorneys as the Russia investigation has broadened.
Kushner, communications director Hope Hicks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence are among the growing group of Trump associates to lawyer up in recent weeks, and each could incur thousands of dollars in legal fees that their government salaries and conflict of interest restrictions could make difficult to pay.
The Office of Government Ethics now allows lobbyists to contribute anonymously to the legal defense funds of White House staffers, a practice that the federal watchdog previously discouraged. While the OGE did not officially change its rules on such donations, it clarified them to make plain that aides can accept anonymous help from lobbyists who want to assist administration officials with their bills.
Legal defense funds could be of little use to former aides and those who don’t have the profile to attract donations, however. And it’s unclear whether Trump, the RNC, or the campaign could use the funds to help White House staff afford their legal bills.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment about whether it had offered to help pay the legal fees for anyone caught up in the investigation.