John Dowd, while heading President Donald Trump's legal team earlier this year, sought to send money from the White House's legal defense fund to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, when both of those former Trump campaign officials were being prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The Journal said that White House ethics advisors rejected Dowd's idea, and later rejected his subsequent plan to personally donate $25,000 to Manafort's legal defense fund and solicit donors for that fund.
"White House advisers and Trump associates warned Mr. Dowd that his efforts to solicit funds and donate to the former campaign aides would look improper, according to people familiar with the discussions," the newspaper reported.
"They were eager to avoid any perception that the president's legal team was seeking to interfere in the investigation, as well as to keep the charges against Messrs. Manafort and Gates distanced from the president so as not to taint him."
Gates pleaded guilty Feb. 22 to lying to federal investigators. Trump's former campaign chairman Manafort, who was convicted at trial of bank fraud and tax crimes last month, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a related case this month, and agreed to cooperate with Mueller in an ongoing probe that includes investigating possible wrongdoing by campaign officials.
Dowd, who left Trump's team in March, told the Journal in an email that he considered donating money to Manafort but "upon the advice I received, I did not make that contribution."
The White House referred questions about the Journal's story from CNBC to Trump's current lawyers for the Mueller probe. A spokesman for those lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dowd blasted the Journal's story in an email sent to CNBC when asked to comment on the report.
"Another cheap hit piece!
When we started cooperating and providing witnesses to [Mueller's office], many people needed help and a concentrated challenging effort was under taken by many good lawyers to figure out who and who could not be funded;
Had no control of funds. Never tried to divert funds. Inquired whether possible to include [Manafort] and was told it was not for the reasons stated. There was no drama. End of story.
Learned PM had set up fund. Raised with my colleagues. Received good advice. Took the advice Did not contribute 25K to his fund as suggested. Again no drama.
Based on a lot of homework, I knew that neither Manafort or Gates could implicate the President.
And as everyone knows I resigned of my own accord over a matter of advice which the President has always understood. I still communicate with him; help his team and support him in every way I can."