The Republican Party has agreed to pay up to $1.6 million in legal bills for former president Donald Trump to help him fight investigations into his business practices in New York, according to Republican National Committee members and others briefed on the decision.Get the full experience.Choose your plan ArrowRight
The party’s executive committee overwhelmingly approved the payments at a meeting this summer in Nashville, according to four members and others with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting of the executive committee.That means the GOP’s commitment to pay Trump’s personal legal expenses could be more than 10 times higher than previously known.Last month, the GOP said in campaign-finance filings that it had paid Trump’s personal attorneys $121,670 in October .More payments have been made since then.A party official said Thursday that the RNC paid $578,000 in November to attorneys known to be representing both Trump and his businesses.
Trump’s longtime accountant testifies to N.Y.grand jury in criminal probe The payments are expected to continue over the coming months, and the executive committee could approve amounts beyond $1.6 million if it chooses, the people familiar with the decision said.The payments are meant to help Trump defend himself against two parallel investigations of his business: a civil probe by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) and a criminal investigation by James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R.Vance Jr.(D).“The RNC’s Executive Committee approved paying for certain legal expenses that relate to politically motivated legal proceedings waged against President Trump,” said Emma Vaughn, a GOP spokeswoman, in a statement Thursday.“As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP.
It is entirely appropriate for the RNC to continue assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never ending witch hunt and attacks on him.”James and Vance have said their probes are not politically motivated.James has promised in the past to use her perch to investigate Trump and his company.Campaign finance experts said there appeared to be nothing illegal about the payments.The RNC was free to pay for Trump’s legal fees, they said.Still, paying Trump’s legal bills is a highly unusual move, longtime party observers and members say, because the spending has nothing to do with promoting the GOP’s policy agenda or political priorities, dealing with ongoing party business or campaigning— and relates to investigations that are not about Trump’s time as president or his work in the White House.The decision also shows the party continuing to help the former president ahead of what could be a competitive primary process in 2024, with Trump eyeing another bid.“To pay the legal fees for someone who isn’t a candidate, and isn’t an employee — I’ve never seen that happen,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign lawyer at the firm Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg.In its first payments, in October, the RNC paid Ronald Fischetti, who has acted as Trump’s personal lawyer in the investigations.On Thursday, the RNC said it paid Fischetti again in November, as well as two new law firms.One was the firm of Susan Necheles, who responded to questions Thursday with a brief statement: “I represent President Trump personally and I also represent the Trump Organization.”When Trump’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and two Trump corporate entities were indicted by Vance on tax fraud charges this summer, Necheles was listed as an attorney for the firms.Weisselberg and the two companies have pleaded not guilty.The RNC said it also paid the law firm of Michael van der Veen, a personal-injury and defense lawyer from Philadelphia who served as part of Trump’s defense team in his second impeachment trial.
Van der Veen did not respond to a question about his current work for Trump.
Fischetti declined to comment.A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a message.Republican Party officials say privately that Trump is the biggest fundraising draw for the party, and they want to stay in his good graces ahead of the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel regularly talks to Trump, according to Trump advisers, and has in the past warned him against starting a third party.She has managed to keep close ties with him as other advisers have burned out.And while some members have called for the party to be more independent from Trump, a large majority of the party’s 168-member committee continues to support him, according to members and party officials.Douglas Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican Party, said he viewed the party’s decision as inadvisable — but also understandable.Heye and others said Trump has demanded total loyalty from McDaniel.Earlier this year, after she publicly declared herself neutral in the 2024 primaries, he retorted at a RNC event: “She’s neutral like I’m neutral.”“The lesson is ultimately you don’t make a deal with the devil, but if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound,” Heye said.“They want their party to win, and they want to take back the House and the Senate.Having Donald Trump either on your side, or on the sidelines as a non-malicious, nonmalignant figure, is what you hope for.
You know he could take you down at any time.”Heye, a Trump critic, said he doubted paying the former president’s personal legal bills would cause much of a revolt within the party.“Some will grumble privately, but most won’t say anything, and a lot of them will be good with it,” he said of the party’s committee members.But some other potential 2024 candidates have grown frustrated that McDaniel and the party have remained so close to Trump, fundraising off him instead of trying to move the party past a polarizing time when Republicans lost the White House, Senate and House during his presidency.Earlier this year, Bill Palatucci, a New Jersey committee member, criticized the party for spending money on Trump’s legal bills and not spending more in New Jersey, where the party could have used the money in a tight gubernatorial race Republicans ultimately lost, he said.The Washington Post obtained an email from Palatucci calling for more spending in New Jersey in October, when the party paid for Trump’s lawyers, but his request was initially declined by McDaniel, the email shows.“We could have used that money in New Jersey,” he said, of paying Trump’s legal bills.An RNC official said the party spent more in the state in the final days of the race but did not alert Palatucci personally, although it did inform the state party.
The investigation into whether the Trump Organization committed fraud has escalated in recent months, as New York prosecutors have interviewed Trump’s longtime banker and accountant , and James has demanded a deposition from Trump in a separate civil case.Trump has not been accused of any wrongdoing.Since Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the RNC has spent more than $2.6 million at Trump’s hotels and clubs, according to campaign-finance data.That spending began with the party’s 2016 holiday party, which was held at Trump’s Washington hotel.The RNC paid $117,000 for that event — about four times what it had spent on the party in past years, when it was held at a bar near the Capitol.After that, the RNC paid for a series of lavish dinners and retreats at Trump’s properties — a trend that has continued into Trump’s post-presidency.This spring, the party moved a donor dinner from another venue in Palm Beach, Fla., to the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club, and paid $175,000 for the room and the food.Trump has more than $100 million in his PAC and could pay his own bills, should he choose to do so.
Trump has attacked James repeatedly, saying her investigation is a political “witch hunt.”Paul Seamus Ryan, a campaign-law expert at Common Cause, which advocates for accountable government, said that when Trump was a candidate, it would have been illegal for him to spend his own campaign funds on legal fees.That’s because federal law prohibits candidates from spending campaign funds on personal expenses, unrelated to politics.But Ryan said no such ban applies to political parties.So the RNC can pay Trump’s legal bills, even for an investigation unconnected to his time as president.“This is an abuse of donor trust,” Ryan said.“I’ve been following money in politics closely for more than two decades, and I’m unaware of any similar past abuse of donor trust and donor money to pay personal legal bills of private citizens.”.