Former President Donald J. Trump’s political organization and his allies have paid for or promised to finance the legal fees of more than a dozen witnesses called in the congressional investigation into the January 6 attack, raising legal and ethical questions about whether the former president may be influencing testimony with a direct bearing on him.
The arrangement drew new scrutiny this week after Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide in his White House, made an explosive appearance before the House panel, providing damning new details about Mr. Trump’s actions and statements on the day of the deadly riot.
She did so after appointing new counsel and dismissing the attorney who had been suggested to her by two of Mr. Trump’s former aides and funded by his political committee. In a fourth meeting with the committee, Ms. Hutchinson shared additional information and consented to go public with her testimony while being defended by the new attorney, Jody Hunt.
As per two people acquainted with the committee’s work, some members of the panel believe that it played a role in Ms. Hutchinson’s eagerness to appear at a televised hearing and give a more thorough, extensive account of what she saw. It is unknown, however, as to if her change in lawyer was the direct cause of her willingness to do so.
Mr. Trump asserted that Ms. Hutchinson’s new attorney might have influenced her to tell lies. He lamented the change in her tale on his social media platform, Truth Social.
The incident aroused concerns about whether Mr. Trump and his supporters would be influencing witnesses to withhold key evidence that could implicate or harm the former president, either tacitly or overtly. Previously, Mr. Trump and his advisers were charged with attempting to sway witnesses in inquiries into him. The panel is renowned for often asking witnesses during private interviews if anyone has attempted to sway their evidence.
According to Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony before the January 6 committee, she was one of the participants who received calls from people close to Mr. Trump indicating that they would be better off sticking with the previous president. The vice chairwoman of the board, Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, cited two witnesses who made similar comments on Tuesday and recommended that the panel was considering the option that the previous president or his allied forces were actually trying to hinder its investigation. She added that “most people know that attempting to affect witnesses and evidence dishonestly tries to present very significant doubts.”
There is no felony associated with a third party paying a witness’s legal costs, except witness manipulation. A legal-defense fund established by Mr. Clinton’s friends to help the very first family is paying its multimillion-dollar lawful debts was not able to assist the former president’s aides, who claimed they were drowning in legal bills due to the numerous investigations into his and his family’s individual and commercial affairs. Later, Mr. Clinton promised to assist in generating funds for his former aides’ legal costs, but he made no significant attempt to do so.
Many more of Mr. Trump’s former aides have asked him to cover their legal bills, claiming their financial difficulties and the excessive cost of legal counsel in the wake of a significant congressional probe. However, the practice has drawn more attention due to Mr. Trump’s potential criminal liability and his curiosity about the investigation’s findings.
Financial reports show that Mr. Trump’s “Save America” political action organization gave legal firms approximately $200,000 alone in May. This includes $50,000 to Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, which has depicted Stephen K. Bannon, a close ally of the former president who has been criminally charged with disdain for refusing to appear before the board, and $75,000 to JPRowley Law, which reflects Cleta Mitchell, a pro-Trump attorney who has filed a lawsuit to try and block the committee’s subpoena. The senior partner of the company that is Mr. Bannon’s legal counsel refused to respond.
According to persons with knowledge of the situation, the PAC has paid for the counsel of a group of former officials and advisers in the investigation, notably some well-known ones like Stephen Miller, a top adviser to Mr. Trump. It was unclear at first if the payments were for covering legal costs related to the January 6 inquiry. A portion of Mr. Miller’s legal expenses were covered by Mr. Trump’s PAC. Mr. Trump’s spokesperson also refused to respond.
It’s not against the law to pay a witness’s legal costs. However, it does bring up important ethical questions surrounding the terms of financial support. The panel is investigating the prospect of referring someone for criminal prosecution if they attempt to purposefully distort a witness’s written hearing.