A pair of payments made by the Republican National Committee to a law firm representing former President Donald Trump have raised concerns among former and current GOP officials about the party’s priorities in a critical election year, as well as its ability to remain neutral in the 2024 presidential primary, as long-standing RNC rules require.
The two payments totaling $121,670 to Fischetti and Malgieri LLP, which were mentioned in the committee’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, were first revealed on Monday. The Trump Organization recruited Ronald Fischetti, a partner at the New York-based firm, in April, despite continuing investigations into the real estate company’s financial operations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and state Attorney General Letitia James.
According to an RNC spokesperson, the party’s executive committee recently “approved paying for certain legal expenses that relate to politically motivated legal proceedings waged against President Trump,” and defended the payments as “entirely appropriate” as the party “continue[s] assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never ending witch hunt and attacks on [Trump].”
Some RNC members and contributors, however, accused the party of violating its own neutrality standards and misallocating its objectives. Some of the same people have questioned why the party would foot the legal expenditures of a self-proclaimed millionaire who had a $102 million war chest as recently as July and had previously utilized his different political entities to fund legal costs.
According to August FEC filings, the former President’s Make America Great Again committee has paid Jones Day more than $37,000 since the beginning of the year, while his Make America Great Again super PAC has spent a total of $7.8 million to lawyers handling his 2020 election challenges.
“This is not normal. Nothing about this is normal, especially since he’s not only a former President but a billionaire,” said a former top RNC official.
“What does any of this have to do with assisting Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?” the official added.
Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey, said the fact that the RNC paid Trump’s attorneys in October was especially frustrating given his own request to party officials that same month for more resources as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack Ciattarelli over the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
“We sure as heck could have used $121,000,” Palatucci stated.
Despite the fact that Murphy barely beat Ciattarelli to gain reelection, the unusually close contest in a state that President Joe Biden carried by 15 percentage points in 2020 had Democrats wondering what it may signify for their party next autumn.
“We were in the middle of hand-to-hand combat trying to win and those resources could have helped here. It just speaks for itself of what the priorities were,” Palatucci added.
Another former RNC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, described the RNC’s decision to foot Trump’s legal bills as “the big conundrum” top party officials face as they try to avoid putting their thumbs on the scale ahead of the 2024 GOP presidential primary, in which Trump continues to tease his potential candidacy while maintaining a record-breaking fundraising pace with the former President’s assistance.
“Trump helps them raise boatloads of money but he’s also likely to be a candidate for president and it’s only going to become more difficult for them to keep a distance,” the official said, while also questioning why the RNC is “having to pay for this when you have these super PACs taking in unlimited money for Trump.”
A third RNC official described Trump’s relationship with the national party as a “hostage situation,” claiming that Trump could devastate the GOP if he left the party or encouraged his supporters to stop contributing to it at any time, including if the RNC no longer agrees to cover some of his legal bills.
“They can’t disentangle themselves from him because they need him,” this person said.
Even as late as last week, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel used the party’s rules about neutrality in order to avoid questioning about Trump’s 2024 plans.
“I know you guys love jumping to 2024. I’m just not going to go there. The bylaws of the party are you have to stay neutral,” McDaniel told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Former RNC officials who talked said that although they did not believe the party was violating its neutrality standards by funding Trump’s legal bills right now, it is likely to cause problems for the organization in the future.
“There are no candidacies yet, so it’s not really running afoul of that, but it sends a signal that it’s going to at some point,” the official said.
Since Trump left office, there have been questions over whether the party structure could legitimately be deemed neutral toward Trump if he runs again in 2024, which his aides suggest is becoming more probable. The RNC staged part of its annual spring donor retreat at Mar-a-Lago only three months after the former President decamped to Palm Beach, Florida, in January – a move that entailed paying the oceanfront club to utilize its facilities and cater the gathering. At the same time, the party rejected a cease-and-desist letter from Trump’s camp, which demanded that the GOP stop using his name in fundraising calls.
The payments to Trump’s lawyers in October are also not the first time the RNC has supported personal legal expenses for the former President or his friends. The group spent more than $230,000 in 2017 to fund part of the then-legal President’s bills linked to the special counsel probe into Russian election meddling. The party also paid nearly $200,000 in legal fees for Donald Trump Jr., who became embroiled in the investigation after meeting with an attorney he believed would provide damaging information about his father’s opponent, then-Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In both cases, it is unclear whether RNC supporters were informed ahead of time that their donations may be used to pay the Trump family’s legal bills – a concern that the Democratic National Committee seized on Tuesday.
Trump has not been charged in any inquiry into his New York business operations. Longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, on the other hand, was charged by a grand jury in July on 15 state charges linked to an alleged tax fraud conspiracy that spanned more than a decade.
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