President Donald Trump's legal defense fund is being paid by a handful of wealthy donors including a billionaire investor, a property developing in need of U.S. visas and a Ukrainian-born billionaire with connections to Russian oligarchs, said The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
These donors, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) pay into an account held by the Republican National Committee (RNC). In the last month, the account paid out $300,000 to attorneys for Mr. Trump's private legal fees and an additional $200,000 for his son, Donald, Jr.'s lawyers.
A spokesperson for the RNC told the Journal that the expenses will be detailed in its September report. In August, the RNC legal fund raised $280,000 and $700,000 in July.
The arrangement is legal, but sets off a number of alarm bells, said Common Cause chairman Paul Ryan -- no relation to Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- especially regarding what some of these big-money donors may want in return.
“Big-dollar special interest fundraising to pay the president’s legal bills most certainly raises the threat of corruption,” said Ryan. “Lots of donors to the RNC are looking for access and influence. A big check for the president’s legal bills is one more way to do it.”
Some Republicans are squeamish, though, about donating to the party only to have their money go to defending Trump in court. Typically, the RNC legal fund is used to pay for electoral recounts and other legal expenditures associated with running Republicans for office.
“One of the potential impacts is that it could harden some donors against wanting to give additional dollars,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden.
RNC spokeswoman Cassie Smedile sought to tamp down anxious donors fears that the president is draining the party's coffers by stipulating that the attorney fees "have been paid with funds from a pre-existing legal-proceedings account and do not reduce by a dime the resources we can put toward our political work."
Among the president's financial saviors are shipping magnate Richard Uihlein and his wife Elizabeth ($200,000), investor Charles Schwab ($100,000), Home Depot CEO Bernard Marcus and his wife Wilma, shadowy billionaire Robert Mercer and others including Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, who has donated copiously to the legal fund.
"The contribution from Mr. Blavatnik came during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian meddling in the U.S. election," the Journal reported, "a month before the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee its probe of Russian interference -- which subsequently prompted Mr. Trump to hire a private legal team."
Blavatnik is a friend and business partner of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg -- a close ally of the Kremlin and one of the richest men in Russia.