Breaking News Emails
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's campaign paid more than $66,000 to the law firm that represents Keith Schiller, his former longtime bodyguard, newly filed campaign records show.
Schiller, who left a White House job in September, testified to the House Intelligence Committee in November that someone made an offer to send five women to Trump's hotel room in Moscow in the lead-up to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
Two people familiar with the matter told NBC News that Schiller painted the incident in a light favorable to Trump, saying he turned down the offer on Trump's behalf and treated it as a joke. It is presumed by congressional investigators that Schiller told the same story to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Stuart Sears, a lawyer for Schiller, said he could not comment on whether the Trump campaign's payment was related to Schiller's legal fees.
Federal election law allows the use of campaign money for legal fees, but only if the fees are related to a matter connected to the campaign, legal experts say.
The Trump campaign spent $834,000 on legal fees during the first quarter of 2018, federal campaign records show — about 20 percent of total spending.
About $348,000 went to Jones Day, a law firm representing the campaign in the Mueller probe. A total of $280,000 was paid to two firms — Harder LLP and Larocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha — that represent Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in their ongoing dispute with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.
In the last two years, the campaign has paid nearly $288,000 to a firm representing his son, Donald Jr., federal election records show.
In a 2016 opinion involving a former Idaho senator, Larry Craig, the D.C. Circuit court ruled that Craig broke the law by using campaign funds to pay for his legal fees after he was arrested for sexually propositioning an undercover officer in an airport bathroom.
Noting that it's unlawful to use campaign funds for "personal use," the court opined that "legal expenditures made in response to charges of campaign or official misconduct are not personal [use]; expenditures to rebut allegations of personal misconduct are."
Since the investigations into Trump and his son are at least partially related to the campaign, they appear to be on firm legal ground using campaign funds to defray some of their legal costs.
The Schiller situation could be different, given that Schiller has been questioned about matters that occurred in 2013, well before Trump declared his candidacy, according to Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer with Akerman LLP.
"I can see people taking the point of view that the entire investigation springs out of the campaign, but that would be a real stretch," Kappel said.
That said, investigators likely also asked Schiller about matters that arose during the campaign.
The campaign made a single payment of nearly $66,000 to Schiller's lawyers, Schertler & Onorato LLP, in January, records newly filed with the Federal Election Commission show.
Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance expert and law professor at Stetson University, said Trump is pushing all sorts of boundaries in terms of campaign finance law.
Schiller’s actions in 2013, she said, "would seem to be falling way outside of him being president or even a candidate for federal office."
Whether the Stormy Daniels case has been deemed by Trump to be related to the campaign is unclear. But if Trump argued it was, that could also fuel a legal theory that the $130,000 paid to her in hush money by Cohen amounted to an illegal campaign contribution to Trump. Federal law limits individual contributions to $2,700.
Campaign finance violations were among the potential crimes listed on the warrant that authorized the raid of Cohen's home and office, NBC News has reported.
Ben Ginsburg, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.