Trump used an obscure taxpayer-funded office to attack New York Attorney General Tish James on the morning her office deposed him
- Trump disseminated several videos on Wednesday attacking New York Attorney General Tish James.
- The videos were shared from the "Office of Donald J. Trump."
Donald Trump is, of course, no longer president — much as he'd like to be and may again attempt to become.
But this morning, in four email messages emblazoned with the presidential seal, Trump used an obscure, taxpayer-funded office to skewer New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose legal team today is deposing him as part of an investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing by the Trump Organization, his multi-billion-dollar business conglomerate.
"ICYMI: Letitia James' Radical Witch Hunt," read the subject line for four messages from the Office of Donald J. Trump on Wednesday morning, each linking to videos on the social media platform Rumble and showcasing quotes from the attorney general about her desire to take down Trump and questioning the legitimacy of his presidency.
Trump then released a lengthy statement from his official office decrying James and explaining why he's invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and not answering questions during the deposition.
Good-government advocates decried Trump's use of an official, taxpayer-subsidized office for this purpose.
"By using this office and the presidential seal, Trump is conveying a sort of government endorsement or approval of his attacks. It is unseemly, it is wrong and this is not how taxpayer dollars should be spent," said Jenna Grande, a spokesperson for nonpartisan watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"It's obviously unseemly for taxpayers to be funding an enterprise that's sending these types of ads," said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform for the Campaign Legal Center, another nonpartisan watchdog organization.
Ghosh added, however, that he knew of no law that expressly prohibits Trump from using his official office as a bludgeon against political adversaries. Trump is also not subject to any federal government ethics rule because he no longer holds office.
Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor and expert on the US presidency, agreed that Trump's anti-James messaging doesn't appear to violate any law.
"While not illegal, the use of the taxpayers' office for political propaganda is clearly unethical," Lichtman told Insider. "It violates the purpose of the act, which was to provide nonpartisan assistance to former presidents and falsely creates an aura of official sanction for Trump's political messages."
Representatives for Trump and James did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump gets taxpayer-funded perks
Passed in 1958, the Former Presidents Act gives former US presidents lifetime access to a variety of perks, including office space, staff funding, a pension, travel reimbursement, and Secret Service protection.
Currently, Trump is entitled to $150,000 worth of public money per year to pay staff at his official post-presidency office. That figure will drop to $96,000 per year come mid-2023, according to the Former Presidents Act.
Trump is likewise entitled to $1 million per year in travel reimbursements while former First Lady Melania Trump is entitled to a travel reimbursement of $500,000 annually.
The General Services Administration also stands to provide Trump unspecified funding for a "suitable office space, appropriately furnished and equipped." For Trump, that office space is located at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, which FBI agents searched on Monday.
The same financial benefits Trump receives are also extended to the nation's other living former presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, per the act.
A 2020 study by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation found that taxpayer-subsidized rent for former presidents' offices can run into the millions of dollars annually.
Currently, only a former president removed from office after being impeached can be stripped of the benefits, although Congress could amend the Former Presidents Act to adjust benefits as it sees fit.
While many former presidents use their post-presidential offices to administer official statements — often non-controversial ones — the offices generally don't wade into highly politicized matters. They're almost never used as vehicles for launching attacks on other public figures.
Trump, who is actively considering another presidential run in 2024, didn't need to use his official office to attack James.
That's because Trump leads a collection of privately-funded federal political committees, including the Save America PAC and Make America Great Again PAC, that he can and does use to make overtly political statements and actions — and raise what's now amounted to tens of millions of dollars in contributions.
But shortly after leaving the White House, Trump's taxpayer-funded office telegraphed that Trump may use his official office differently than past presidents.
The office said it would be "responsible for managing President Trump's correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism."
It added: "President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American People."
Shortly after Trump's impeachment trial acquittal on February 13, 2021, his post-presidency office also released a statement foreshadowing a Trump comeback — of one sort or another.
In part, it read: "Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!"
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