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RNC taps legal account to help pay for lawyers for President Trump and son Donald Jr. in Russia probes

The RNC paid $131,250 last month to Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump's legal team. (Steve Helber/AP)

The Republican National Committee is using a pool of money stockpiled for election recounts and other legal matters to pay for President Trump's ballooning lawyer fees related to the multiple Russia investigations, directing more than $427,000 so far to lawyers representing him and his eldest son, party officials confirmed Tuesday.

The RNC will report that last month it paid $100,000 to Trump's personal attorney John Dowd, and $131,250 to Jay Sekulow, another member of his legal team, in a Federal Election Commission report set to be filed Wednesday.

The party is also covering the mounting legal costs for the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., spending nearly $200,000 this month on lawyers who helped him prepare for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those payments, including more than $166,000 to attorney Alan Futerfas, will be reported on the RNC's FEC filing next month.

All the legal 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 towards our political work,” RNC spokeswoman Cassie Smedile said in a statement. Reuters and CNN first reported the party payments.

The decision to tap the legal account comes after RNC officials debated this summer whether those funds could be used to help defray the costs related to the Russia probes. Some party officials thought it would be more appropriate to create a separate legal defense fund for the case, The Washington Post reported in July.

RNC officials concluded that it is permissible for the party to pay for the president's legal fees, according to a person familiar with the conversations. Separately, party and administration officials are working to determine whether executive branch staff members, who must comply with gift rules, could have their legal fees defrayed by the RNC or private legal defense funds.

The party's legal account was created by a 2014 spending measure, one of a trio of new accounts slipped into an end-of-the-year bill that dramatically expanded how much wealthy individuals could give to the national parties. Donors are permitted to give triple the amount to the special accounts than they can contribute to the party's main political fund.

Under the law, money for the legal account is to be “used to defray expenses incurred with respect to the preparation for and the conduct of election recounts and contests and other legal proceedings.’’

The RNC has raised millions to go into the account since its creation, thanks to six-figure checks from rich party backers. In July alone, half a dozen donors each contributed $101,700 to the legal account, including Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus and San Francisco investment company executive Charles Schwab, FEC filings show.

Trump's reelection committee — which is largely financed by small donors — has also directed to money to lawyers dealing with the Russia investigations. Such payments are permitted under federal law, as long as the legal expenses resulted from campaign activity.

In July, the committee reported paying $50,000 to Futerfas's law firm June 27. That payment was made 13 days before it was publicly revealed that Futerfas would represent Donald Trump Jr., who held a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who was said to have potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

In addition, the campaign committee paid the Trump Corporation — a company being run by Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric — more than $89,000 for “legal consulting”  June 30, the report showed.

It remains unknown whether Trump, who has said he is worth billions, is personally paying any of his legal expenses. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to a question about whether the president is helping defray the costs.

This post has been updated.