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President Biden's aides won't establish legal defense fund to pay lawyer bills

Biden could rack up personal legal fees as a special counsel investigates his handling of classified documents.
Joe Biden returns to the White House after a trip to Ukraine and Poland
Joe Biden returns to the White House after a trip to Ukraine and Poland, on Feb. 22, 2023.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s aides have ruled out the creation of a legal defense fund to help pay for any personal legal fees in response to investigations, such as the special counsel probe into his handling of classified documents, according to three people familiar with the matter.

One of the people said the president’s closest advisers have not even discussed with him the idea of creating a legal defense fund because “there’s no reason to; there’s not going to be one.”

The president’s advisers decided against establishing such a fund because of concerns about questions that could be raised if he did, including that doing so might generate political blowback or give the appearance there’s potential wrongdoing he needs to defend, two of the people familiar with the matter said.

The amount Biden has accrued in personal legal bills for matters related to investigations, specifically the classified documents probe, is unclear, and the White House has declined to say how those bills are currently being paid.

A spokesperson for Biden’s personal lawyer, Bob Bauer, declined to comment on the specific nature of his compensation arrangements with the president, saying in a statement that “the engagement is directly between the president and his personal lawyer that in no way involve the use of taxpayer dollars.” Biden had another private lawyer, Patrick Moore, working on the classified documents investigation, though he no longer represents the president.

Biden’s 2020 campaign and the Democratic National Committee both have ongoing financial relationships with prominent law firms, including retainer agreements. Those arrangements could help cover some of the president’s legal bills, as well as for individuals who worked for him, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The amount those law firms receive could change, though, if their workload increases either as the special counsel probe unfolds or House Republican investigations ramp up, one person familiar with the matter said. 

A spokesperson for the DNC declined to comment.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has referred questions about who is paying the president’s legal fees to the White House counsel’s office. The White House counsel’s office has declined to answer the question.

While the president’s advisers have ruled out a legal defense fund, some allies of Biden and his son Hunter Biden have been considering creating a legal defense fund to help offset costs to him as he responds to congressional investigations. 

No decisions have been made on whether to move forward with one for Hunter Biden, according to two people familiar with the matter. The discussions, however, have coincided with rising frustrations among some members of the president’s inner circle with Hunter Biden’s newest lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and his more aggressive public strategy in his client’s defense, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. 

Hunter Biden’s lawyers recently sent letters to federal investigators asking for an inquiry into the potential theft of his personal data that may include contents of his laptop and have asked some allies of former President Donald Trump to preserve potential evidence for future lawsuits related to the alleged theft. That personal data has fueled Republican attacks against Hunter and GOP congressional investigations.

Some members of the president's inner circle, while they understand Hunter Biden wants to defend himself after largely remaining silent through several years of public criticism, think Lowell is leading Hunter Biden down an ill-advised path, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. They would prefer Hunter Biden continue to keep a low public profile and are doubtful his efforts to fight back will change the public narrative about him, the people familiar with the matter said.

Lowell declined to comment.

A White House spokesperson said in a statement that the president “loves his son and is proud that he has overcome his addiction and is moving forward with his life.”

“These politically-motivated partisan attacks on the President and his family that are rooted in nonsensical conspiracy theories do nothing to address the real issues Americans care about and deserve to be called out,” Ian Sams, the White House spokesperson, added.

The DNC could help pay for personal legal fees not only for the president but also for some aides who worked for him while he was vice president, a candidate or now in the White House. 

A source familiar with the matter cautioned that any discussions about the DNC picking up some of the costs remain hypothetical, as the special counsel probe is still at an early stage and congressional investigations also have yet to take shape. 

The RNC paid legal fees for former President Donald Trump and members of his family while he was in office.

Biden allies arranged for a lawyer to represent Kathy Chung, who served as Biden’s executive assistant when he was vice president and currently works at the Defense Department, after classified documents were discovered at Biden’s private office, according to two people familiar with the matter. Chung played a key role in packing up Biden’s belongings during his final days as vice president in January 2017. 

The White House counsel’s office also plays a role in defending administration officials, and the president, in some legal matters.

The RNC paid for some legal fees accrued by Trump after he left office from what a spokesperson for the RNC called “politically motivated legal proceedings.” Trump’s political action committee also helped pay legal fees for some former aides and allies who were called to testify before the Jan. 6 congressional committee.

There is a precedent for a sitting president to establish a legal defense fund. Former President Bill Clinton did so while he was in office facing multiple investigations and lawsuits about his conduct in the White House and as governor of Arkansas. 

The idea of a legal defense fund for a sitting president’s son is less familiar. In addition to expected congressional investigations by House Republicans, Hunter Biden also has been under federal investigation into his taxes. His legal bills could total more than $10 million, according to estimates from people close to him.

Biden's allies also have estimated the amount of his personal legal bills is likely in the millions, and is expected to grow.

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in legal and government ethics, said any ethical concerns that might arise from a president creating a legal defense fund could also apply to the establishment of a legal defense fund for the president’s son.

“There’s a real risk that the people contributing to a legal defense fund will be trying to curry favor with the president,” said Clark said.