The title of Walter Shaub’s op-ed today in the LA Times says it all: “Trump’s Ethics Office has blessed an unethical legal defense fund for the president’s associates.”
The fund, which will reimburse legal fees stemming from the Russia investigations, represents a radical and dangerous departure from established practice for government-employee legal defense funds. It’s formulated under, of all things, an IRS designation for political organizations. Even its name, the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust, echoes the tribal politics of our time. The name may suggest something more sinister still, that the cash is for “patriots” loyal to the president.
Shaub goes on to outline the numerous breaches of ethics in the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust. For example:
The 49-page charter is a lush garden of legal formalities that conceal the fund’s minimal consideration of ethical safeguards. No firewall prevents the president from bending the manager’s ear about who should or shouldn’t receive the fund’s largesse. Nor is the manager required to seek any guidance from ethics officials to determine if donations come from prohibited sources. The Patriot Fund doesn’t specifically bar gifts from a donor who verbally admits the donation is based on the potential recipient’s official position.