State Dept. to offer impeachment witnesses aid for legal bills

The impeachment inquiry is likely to cost taxpayers more than expected.

A State Department official told CBS News State Department Reporter Christina Ruffini on Thursday that the federal agency will offer financial aid to its employees who have incurred legal costs because of the impeachment hearings. 

It’s unclear whether the aid will extend to former as well as current employees or to those who have refused to testify. While 14 officials have given closed-door testimony so far, 13 others rejected requests to appear before the impeachment committees. Most of the witnesses have been current or former State Department officials.

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Earlier on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the agency would make an announcement “shortly” about easing the legal burden on these people. He said it would “be consistent with what we’ve done previously.” 

The State Department official told CBS News that the agency has decided to offer aid in this case because of the “unusual circumstances.” Although President Bill Clinton paid off his own legal bills incurred during his impeachment, legal experts say it’s normal for the federal government to cover them in these instances.

“It’s quite normal for the federal government to indemnify an employee for legal expenses incurred in connection with his employment,” CBS News legal contributor Rebecca Roiphe, a former assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email. “Impeachment legal expenses are no different so this is what I would expect would happen.”

The department said aid would be available for past and future costs of private lawyers and that it has already started communicating with individuals about how to access these funds. 

“The expense will not be trivial,” predicted CBSN legal contributor Keir Dougall, noting that the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, Bill Taylor, was represented at his congressional testimony by attorneys from one of the most expensive firms in the country. Dougall was formerly an assistant United States attorney in New York’s Eastern District.

According to The New York Times, the American Foreign Service Association was asking for donations to help the witnesses in the impeachment hearings pay their legal bills.

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