White House aides are already starting to ask around for legal help to represent their interests in a growing probe into President Donald Trump's campaign's contacts with Russians during the 2016 election, but they could have to dig deep to pay those lawyers' bills.
"Obviously for the people who have a lot of money and assets, some of these higher ups, it's not a problem," attorney Stanley Brand, who represented George Stephanopoulos, ex-President Bill Clinton's first press secretary, told Politico. "It's a problem for the lower downs who don't."
Conflict of interest restrictions that have been in place for years keep White House employees in many cases from getting their legal advice for free or at reduced rates, and as a result, there have been many White House aides in the past, including Stephanopoulos, who have found themselves owing hundreds of thousands in legal fees.
Lawyers who have already been contacted say the White House aides are seeking help while they brace themselves and their careers for subpoenas and grand jury summons, and such aid can "cost a lot of money," said Peter Wehner, an ex-aide in President George W. Bush's White House.
Wehner was brought in for a grand jury appearance during the probe into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, and said it is smart to get an attorney, "even if you've done nothing wrong."
The white-collar attorneys who would cover Trump aides can cost $1,500 an hour and up, a cost that can be prohibitive on a government salary. However, there are some options, including public subsidies, finding attorney friends who will work pro bono, or taking out personal loans, but White House veterans are warning that the costs are still going to be steep.
An official at the Office of Government Ethics said policies are being reviewed to determine who is able to help finance the aides' attorney bills as former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia case, pushes forward with his probe.
Trump himself last week brought in White House lawyers and personal attorney Michael Cohen to talk about the investigation, and reportedly, former Trump aides Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Flynn also have personal lawyers.
The White House declined comment to Politico about the attorneys. It has a general counsel's office, but that relationship does not apply to matters falling outside the staff's daily professional duties.
That can mean "financially ruinous" legal bills, said Norm Eisen, former chief ethics lawyer under former President Barack Obama. "It's personally devastating."
Trump could also pay his staffers' legal fees, but that would likely be discouraged as a conflict of interest, as he would be paying for a subordinate testifying in a case that could eventually include him.
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