- Former White House national-security adviser Michael Flynn won’t be accepting money from President Donald Trump’s legal-defense fund for individuals under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
- Flynn has been a cooperating witness for Mueller since he pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI in December 2017.
- The defense fund presents an ethical quandary for watchdogs, and some suggest it could potentially taint witness testimony if utilized improperly.
- So far, no details have emerged about who specifically would be able to make use of the fund.
Former White House national-security adviser Michael Flynn says he will not be accepting money from a defense fund President Donald Trump has set up to help former administration and campaign officials pay their legal fees in the Russia investigation, according to an ABC News source.
The defense fund, which is called the “Patriot Legal Expense Fund,” has been in the works for weeks, and seeks to alleviate the financial burden of the investigation for those in Trump’s circle. Trump’s attorney Ty Cobb though told ABC that the fund would not support “indictees or current targets” of the probe, and Flynn certainly fits into this category.
ABC’s source laid out the former adviser’s reasoning for refusing the money.
“General Flynn early on made a decision not to accept funds from President Trump, the Trump Organization, or the campaign, and has not accepted any funds from them,” the source said. “And he does not expect to accept any funds from the new entity.”
Flynn, who was ousted from the White House in February 2017, pleaded guilty in December to charges of lying to the FBI about his meetings with former Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December 2016. Since pleading guilty he has been cooperating with the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, and remains a key witness in his investigation.
No information has been given about who would benefit from the fund so far.
An ethical quandary at the heart of the defense-fund idea
Experts and ethics watchdogs disagree about how legal and appropriate it is of Trump to pay off such fees, given that he has a personal stake in the Russia investigation.
Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, told ABC it could complicate the legal process.
“The prosecutor would probably look skeptically at these payments. It could call into question the credibility of the witness and taint the testimony,” Clark said. “Nothing necessarily illegal about the payments, but the fact of the payment could be used to question the credibility of the witness. The prosecutor would not want that testimony tainted.”
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Yet the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, David Apol, said so far, he sees no problems with the draft proposal for the fund.
“If the fund is established and administered in accordance with the terms set out in the attached agreement, both the managers and the employee recipients will be in compliance,” he said.
Apol, who was appointed by Trump after former ethics chief Walter Shaub resigned from the post in July 2017, has a mixed record on upholding ethics regulations. Although he has sought to cut some ethics rules that are currently on the books, he has also come out as a critic of some Trump administration officials’ ethics records.
Apol said he was”deeply concerned that the actions of some in government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics” in a letter sent to federal agencies in October of last year, according to The New York Times.
Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert at New York University School of Law, told ABC he agrees with Apol’s assessment.
“It is none of the government’s business about how a defendant funds his case,” Gillers said. “The only time the government has an interest is if the money is tainted money, the fruits of your crime.”