Pence Raised Nearly $500,000 From Donors to Pay Mueller Legal Defense 1

WASHINGTON — A handful of major donors footed the bill for nearly $500,000 worth of Vice President Mike Pence’s legal fees related to the special counsel’s investigation, according to a financial filing released Tuesday.

Mr. Pence listed the donations as gifts on a mandatory annual financial disclosure statement covering last year.

It showed that $495,000 was donated last year to a defense fund bearing the vice president’s initials — MRP Legal Expense Trust Fund — set up by supporters to help Mr. Pence defray the costs associated with responding to the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The majority of the trust’s cash came from three donors who each gave $100,000 — Michael K. Hayde and Laura Khouri, real estate executives from Southern California who have donated nearly $3 million to national Republican candidates and groups since the beginning of the 2016 election, and Herbert Simon, a mall developer from Indiana and the owner of a professional basketball team who has donated more than $560,000 in that time, primarily to Democrats.

A pair of $50,000 donations came from the Michigan investor Ronald Weiser, a former Republican Party official and major donor who in 2017 attended a dinner with Mr. Pence at the vice president’s residence, and the real estate developer Leo F. Wells III.

The trust was created in late 2018 by James D. Atterholt, who served as trustee. He had worked as chief of staff for Mr. Pence during his time as governor of Indiana.

In a text message, he called Mr. Pence “a decent and honorable person.” He added that the vice president “is not someone of great financial means,” and said he started the trust “because I believe significant legal bills should not be the cost of public service.”

Another longtime adviser to Mr. Pence, Marty Obst, helped Mr. Atterholt raise the funds, and also donated $20,000 himself. Mr. Obst is an experienced Republican fund-raiser who helps lead the vice president’s political action committee, had been paid as a fund-raiser by a super PAC he helped start to support President Trump’s re-election and is a senior adviser to the Trump re-election campaign.

A career political operative, Mr. Obst said the personal donation was a “substantial” amount for him. But he added he “felt very strongly that I wanted to help,” in part because he said he believed “the Mueller investigation was completely unfair.”

Most of the cash raised by the trust — $480,000 — was paid to McGuireWoods, the law firm that represented Mr. Pence in the Mueller investigation. Mr. Pence was represented by a partner at the firm, Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general and United States attorney.

The remaining funds in the trust were spent on administrative expenses, and it was closed in August, according to the disclosure filing.

Mr. Pence’s office said that the fees the trust paid to McGuireWoods represented the totality of the vice president’s legal costs associated with the Mueller investigation, and that he did not pay any fees with his own money.

Over the last few years, other such legal funds have popped up to help current and former members of the Trump administration.

One group, the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust, said it aimed to help “members of President Trump’s campaign, transition and administration” cover costs related to the special counsel and congressional investigations. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, and his wife, Miriam Adelson, donated $500,000 to the fund, whose beneficiaries included Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, both senior White House officials.

Separately, Mr. Trump’s campaign committees and the Republican National Committee paid legal fees related to the various investigations, while at least one of the president’s lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, worked free.

Unlike Mr. Trump, whose financial disclosure typically runs dozens of pages to account for his varied financial interests, Mr. Pence disclosed no reportable income outside his government salary on the filing released Tuesday. He also has a pension from his time as governor of Indiana, though he did not receive any income from it last year.

Mr. Pence had revealed the existence of his legal-expense trust in his financial disclosure filing last year, but the donors remained a mystery until the release of the latest disclosure on Tuesday.

The donors had to adhere to certain restrictions intended to prevent the use of the trust to curry political favor. For example, the donors had to certify that they are United States citizens, and that they were not federal employees, government contractors or registered lobbyists. And Mr. Pence was not allowed to solicit the contributions, according to the disclosure.

Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Ben Protess from New York.