LATE UPDATE Sept. 14, 2017, 5:26 p.m.: OGE press liaison Elizabeth Horton told TPM in a phone call late Thursday afternoon that the “OGE policy on anonymous contributions has not changed.” “OGE is continuing to recommend that funds include language prohibiting anonymous contributions,” Horton said.
Original story below:
In a notable reversal, the Office of Government Ethics has altered its internal guidance to allow anonymous donations to legal defense funds set up on behalf of White House staffers, Politico reported Wednesday.
Former officials in the nonpartisan office told Politico that these faceless donors could try to curry favor with the Trump administration by footing the mounting legal fees for White House officials caught up in the sprawling federal investigation into Russia’s election interference.
“You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” Marilyn Glynn, a veteran of the office who served as acting OGE director during George W. Bush’s administration, told Politico.
An OGE guidance document from 1993 allows for the solicitation of anonymous donations from lobbyists and other groups for legal defense funds. But in practice, OGE officials have strongly discouraged that approach, cautioning from the Clinton administration onwards that such a practice poses grave ethical concerns, according to Politico.
The White House told Politico that it wasn’t helping establish any legal defense funds or pushing for any change in the enforcement of the anonymous donor policy.
TPM has reached out to OGE for comment.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation presses on, the list of Trump associates paying for top-flight white collar lawyers has expanded. Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone has started his own legal defense fund and multiple reports have been published about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s intention of doing the same. Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo has said his legal costs drained his childrens’ college funds.
As for current White House staffers, White House communications director Hope Hicks, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, White House counsel Don McGahn, and Vice President Mike Pence have all retained counsel to navigate the Russia probe.
This story has been updated.