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The Trump campaign and the RNC are now paying Trump’s legal bills in the Russia case

Do Trump’s supporters know their donations are being used to pay a very wealthy man’s personal lawyers?

David A. Grogan/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

President Donald Trump may say he’s a billionaire. But according to a pair of new reports, he’s getting some help with his legal fees for the Russia investigation — from donors to his campaign and the Republican National Committee.

On Tuesday afternoon, Karen Freifeld and Ginger Gibson of Reuters reported that both Trump’s campaign and the RNC have been making payments for Trump’s legal defense. And while we don’t yet know how much of Trump’s own campaign money has been spent on this, CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reports that the RNC has spent at least $230,000 on Trump’s lawyers for the Russia investigation so far:

While this is entirely legal, many politicians have preferred to avoid using campaign money to defend themselves against criminal investigations, fearing it would make them look bad politically. For instance, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made no payments to the firm representing her in the email scandal, according to the Reuters reporters.

Naturally, then, Trump’s move raises questions about why an extremely wealthy man is having his supporters pay the lawyers defending him.

For example, just this week, a joint Trump-RNC fundraising committee sent out a small-donor fundraising appeal dangling the promise of a dinner with the president in return for a $3 contribution:

Trump campaign fundraising email, September 18, 2017

It now seems that at least some small-donor contributions pouring in from passionate Trump supporters to his campaign will be used not to fund the actual campaign, but instead to pay lawyers working on the Russia scandal.

Perhaps many Trump fans would in fact be happy to donate their hard-earned cash to a Trump legal defense fund — if they were asked. But they’re being asked, instead, to donate to Trump’s campaign.

Update: A spokesperson for the RNC, Cassie Smedile, writes that the RNC money going to Trump’s legal fees has “been paid with funds from a pre-existing legal proceedings account” and not from general RNC donations.