Trump starts paying his own legal bills on Russia probe

WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump has begun paying his own legal bills related to the Russia investigation and will no longer use political donations to his reelection campaign or the Republican Party to cover the costs, his attorneys confirmed.

Trump defense lawyer John Dowd said that following payments by the Republican National Committee (RNC), the president began paying the bills and now wants to make the party "even."

The expenses cover Trump's personal lawyers working on special counsel Robert Mueller investigates possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year's election, and whether Trump may have obstructed justice by firing Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, among other actions.

Moscow has denied meddling in the U.S. election, and Trump has denied any collusion or obstruction.

The RNC did not respond to a request for comment.

RELATED: Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective

15 PHOTOS
Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.
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The administration is also working with others to establish a fund for current and former staffers, Special White House counsel Ty Cobb said. Dowd said Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg of Jones Day are working to structure that fund, which would be subject to rules that prohibit staff from receiving gifts or pro bono legal service.

The president is exempt from those rules, Dowd said.

"The geniuses are working on it," Dowd said. “If it passes muster with the tax lawyers and accountants, then it has to pass muster with the Office of Government Ethics."

He added, "The president is worried about staffers who have good lawyers and they can’t afford them."

During former President Bill Clinton's administration, private funds were raised to cover his own legal expenses related to the Whitewater investigation. Under former President George W. Bush, a legal fund was set up to help former staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby, only after he had left White House employment.

In August, Reuters first reported that the RNC was paying Trump's legal bills, which amounted to more than $230,000 that month.

The payments were made to Trump's outside legal team, which includes Dowd and Jay Sekulow.

Additionally, Trump's reelection campaign paid more than $300,000 this year in bills to lawyers representing his son Donald Trump Jr., according to public disclosures filed by the campaign. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment whether it will continue to pay for Trump Jr's legal expenses.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission allows use of private campaign funds to pay legal bills arising from being a candidate or elected official.

While previous presidential campaigns have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements, Trump was the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe, said election law experts. (Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by David Gregorio)

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