President Donald Trump has deep pockets to pay for personal lawyers to defend him from the evolving federal investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. It’s a very different story for his staff.
White House aides bracing for subpoenas and grand jury summons have already begun making inquiries with outside lawyers. But it’s not clear how they’ll pay for legal representation, if or when they need it.
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“It can cost a lot of money,” said Peter Wehner, a former George W. Bush White House aide who was called in for a grand jury appearance in the investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. “Just for safety sake, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.”
Long-standing conflict of interest restrictions limit White House employees in many circumstances from accepting free or discounted attorney advice, and history is littered with examples of a president’s team buried under more than a hundred thousand dollars (George Stephanopoulos, under President Bill Clinton), if not millions (I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, under President George W. Bush), in legal fees.
Trump aides who can’t afford a premier $1,500-per-hour white-collar lawyer on their government salaries have options. They can file for public subsidies, lean on their homeowners’ insurance or tap lawyer friends for pro bono help. But even then, veterans of White House scandals stretching back to the Ronald Reagan era say that some of the staffers who get caught in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s crosshairs will want to start pinching pennies.
“Obviously for the people who have a lot of money and assets, some of these higher ups, it’s not a problem. It’s a problem for the lower downs who don’t,” said Stanley Brand, a white-collar attorney who represented Stephanopoulos, Clinton’s first White House press secretary, during the probe of the president’s…