According to a party spokesperson, the Republican National Committee is paying some personal legal fees for former President Donald Trump, using party money to pay a lawyer defending Trump in investigations into his financial practices in New York.
The RNC paid a total of $121,670 to the legal firm of Ronald Fischetti, a seasoned defense attorney retained by Trump in April. According to a source with firsthand knowledge of the payments, the requests occurred earlier this summer but were only just decided on by the party’s executive committee.
Trump is being investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James, and Fischetti is representing him (D). There is no evidence that each inquiry is related to Trump’s presidency or any of his electoral efforts.
According to a source familiar with the RNC’s decision, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal discussions, the group was ready to foot the tab since James had made remarks suggesting she intended to go after Trump. In 2018, James promised supporters that she planned to probe Trump, saying, “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings” James has said that her probe is being conducted in accordance with the law and is not being influenced by politics.
According to a source familiar with the RNC’s decision, the RNC is not paying some of the president’s other expenditures, such as those for his legal fights over the House Jan. 6 committee’s demands.
“As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP,” the party said in a written statement. “It is entirely appropriate for the RNC to continue assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never ending witch hunt and attacks on him.”
Trump is a rich businessman with hundreds of properties, and he has developed an independent political organization with more than $100 million on hand at the latest count.
“The RNC is our important partner in advancing America First policies and fighting back against the endless witch hunts,” Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement. “The Democrats have become obsessed with weaponizing their offices against President Trump, which is a complete abandonment of their Constitutional obligations.”
Budowich was subpoenaed by the January 6 commission this week to testify. It is unknown whether Budowich will defy the subpoena along with the few other allies Trump has.
Neither James nor Vance have officially charged Trump with any misconduct. The inquiries, according to the former president, are politically motivated.
Vance’s office accused Trump’s longtime top financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and two Trump company organizations on felony tax fraud charges last summer. Weisselberg, as well as the two firms, have pleaded not guilty.
Recently, investigators have requested evidence regarding instances in which Trump’s firm provided lenders and tax officials with significantly different appraisals of the same properties. Vance has assembled a second grand jury in the case to hear evidence and perhaps consider charges. James, who is currently running for governor, has said that she is contemplating filing a lawsuit.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has under pressure from certain members to distance herself from Trump, but the majority of her 168 members continue to back the former president, according to party insiders. In the spring, the party staged a fundraiser at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where Trump spoke, and paid the club over $200,000. McDaniel has had frequent contact with Trump. According to her friends, Trump is still the party’s top fundraiser, and it is critical for her to stay in his good graces.
It’s not the first time the RNC has paid Trump’s legal bills. It paid for attorneys to defend Trump and his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., amid investigations into his 2016 campaign and his potential ties to Russia when he was president.
The Federal Election Commission chastised the RNC last autumn for paying for the attorneys out of an account set aside for recounts and other election-related litigation. The FEC refrained from imposing fines, stating that it had yet to “provide guidance” on the regulations for the segregated account.
According to FEC documents, the payment to Fischetti’s business came from a separate pot of money, the RNC’s general account.
As a result, according to Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, the payments to Fischetti are unlikely to violate federal campaign finance law. This is because the limitation on personal use of campaign committee money does not apply to expenditure by party committees, he said.
However, Craig Engle, the director of the political law division at the law firm Arent Fox, said party committees often avoid paying for personal costs for another reason: fear of losing their tax-exempt status for seeming to utilize nonprofit money for their leaders’ personal gain.
According to Engle, the RNC’s expenditure on the Russia probes was plainly tied to the then-campaign president’s and position in government. “It’s hard to quarrel with that,” Engle remarked.
But, in this instance, the argument that the New York probes are related to Trump’s campaign or position in the party “seems like a real stretch,” according to Fischer.
There was no indication that the RNC was paying Trump’s or any Trump Organization workers’ legal fees. According to one person familiar with the organization, the Trump Organization — which Trump owns — was paying Weisselberg’s legal bills.