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A dozen donors paid nearly $480,000 in legal fees for Pence in Mueller inquiry, new filing shows

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/30/2020 Michelle Lee
a man wearing a suit and tie: Vice President Pence. © Jacquelyn Martin/AP Vice President Pence.

A dozen donors, including major GOP contributors and longtime allies of Vice President Pence, gave about $480,000 to cover Pence’s legal bills in the special counsel’s investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, according to a filing.

The MRP Legal Expense Trust Fund paid $479,680 in 2019 to McGuireWoods LLP for legal services, according to a financial disclosure released Tuesday. Pence had retained a top lawyer at the firm, Richard Cullen, as outside counsel in the Russia probe.

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Jim Atterholt, Pence’s former gubernatorial chief of staff, started the fund with just $25 in December 2018, the filing shows. Since then, donors gave between $5,000 and $100,000, including business executives from Pence’s home state of Indiana and longtime Republican donors. 

“I believe the Vice President is a decent and honorable person but he is not someone of great financial means. I started the trust because I believe significant legal bills should not be the cost of public service,” Atterholt said in a statement Tuesday.

Federal ethics rules prohibit executive branch officials from receiving excessive gifts, and government watchdogs have called on clearer guidelines for legal expense funds to prevent the potential for conflicts of interest or undue influence.

Donors to the fund were required to certify to a series of qualifications to ensure that they were not improperly contributing, according to the filing.

Among other things, donors certified that Pence did not solicit the contribution from them, that the donors were U.S. citizens, and that they were not federal government employees, registered lobbyists, or federal government contractors.

Pence did not have any control over the legal expense trust, according to the disclosures.

Donations to legal defense funds for public officials usually are capped at a certain amount. Contributions were capped at $100,000, Atterholt said.

The top three donors to the fund, who gave $100,000 each, were Michael K. Hayde and Laura Khouri, top executives from the California-based real estate investment company Western National Group, and Herbert Simon, chairman emeritus of the shopping mall developer Simon Property Group and owner of the Indiana Pacers.

Among other donors were Ron Weiser, a longtime GOP donor, former ambassador to Slovakia and former chair of the Michigan GOP ($50,000), and Marty Obst, senior political adviser to Pence ($20,000).

White House officials have said Pence provided documents for the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III but was not asked for an interview.

Cullen is a former Virginia attorney general, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia under President George H.W. Bush and a member of President George W. Bush’s legal team during the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.

“It was an honor to work for the Vice President,” Cullen said in an email Tuesday and referred questions to Pence’s office, which declined to comment.

The trust was terminated in August 2019, according to the disclosure.

Pence’s greatest asset in 2019 was his Indiana state government pension, valued at between $500,001 and $1 million, the filing shows. In 2019, second lady Karen Pence reported between $2,501 and $5,000 in royalties from the children’s book featuring Pence’s rabbit: “Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President,” the filing shows.

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