More than a year after the 2020 presidential election, the GOP is still covering many legal bills for the benefit of former President Donald Trump – and the price tag ruffles the feathers of some longtime GOP donors who are now critical. Trump.
In October and November alone, the Republican National Committee spent nearly $ 720,000 of its donors’ money to pay law firms representing Trump in various court challenges, including criminal investigations into his businesses in New York. York, according to campaign fundraising records.
Trump’s legal bills have driven up the Republican Party’s total legal spending in recent months, resulting in $ 3 million being spent just between September and November. In contrast, the Democratic National Committee has gradually reduced its legal spending in recent months.
Traditionally, national political parties have sometimes covered the legal costs of presidents and their advisers on matters relating to their presidential campaigns. And throughout his presidency, the Republican Party has paid legal bills for Trump, his family members and his political allies, dating back to the days of Special Advisor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election, to through the impeachment proceedings following the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
But experts say the recent payments by the GOP of Trump’s attorney fees after he left the White House, for investigations that are irrelevant to the next presidential campaign, is a highly unusual move that points to influence. continues the former president on the party.
“The campaign finance law does not strictly prohibit a national party committee from paying private legal expenses, but it is very rare for a party committee to use donor money in this way,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reforms in the non-partisan government ethics group Campaign. Legal center.
“And it is completely unprecedented for a national party committee to cover the private legal bills of a former president, especially when those legal fees stem from an investigation into an activity that preceded Trump’s stay at the office. White House, and when Trump sits on millions of his own PAC funds, ”Fischer said.
RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn told ABC News that the RNC executive committee approved payment of “certain legal costs related to politically motivated lawsuits against President Trump,” while declining to comment the specific cases for which they are paid.
“As the leader of our party, standing up for President Trump and his accomplishments is essential for the GOP,” Vaughn said. “It is only fitting that the RNC continues to help fight the Democrats’ endless witch-hunt and attacks against it.”
The RNC has so far paid three law firms on behalf of Trump, paying $ 328,000 to NechelesLaw LLP, $ 200,000 to van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin and $ 172,000 to Fischetti & Malgieri LLP, according to its recent disclosure documents. The Washington Post reported that the RNC has agreed to pay Trump’s legal bills up to $ 1.6 million.
Fischetti & Malgieri is representing Trump in parallel investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York State Attorney General Letitia James into the business practices of Trump’s eponymous company. Vance and James said their investigations were not politically motivated.
Susan Necheles of NechelesLaw reportedly joined the legal team representing Trump and the Trump Organization last summer. Michael van der Veen was part of Trump’s defense team during the impeachment process after January 6.
Payments from law firms have not satisfied some critics of Trump within the GOP.
“It’s very disheartening to see RNC donors funding Trump’s legal bills,” former Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla told ABC News.
Rooney, who is among several Republican lawmakers who announced their retirement after confronting pro-Trump forces in the GOP, was previously U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See during the Bush administration and a generous donor to the Party. Republican, giving over a million dollars. to various candidates and GOP groups over the years.
“I was very supportive of the RNC, especially when Reince Priebus was there,” Rooney said. “But I don’t see myself doing it now because they keep giving Trump money.”
Many Republicans are “exhausted and bothered by” the continued electoral challenges of Trump allies, Rooney said, “because all he does is give a lot of water to people who want to oppose the Republican Party. , at least the one I knew. “
“We are bragging about this big lie and this allegation of electoral fraud, and it harms our most important institution in our country – belief in elections,” Rooney said.
The RNC’s financial support for Trump’s bills also complicates the party’s vow to remain neutral ahead of the nomination process for the 2024 presidential election. “The party must remain neutral. I am not telling anyone to run or to run. not show up in 2024, ”RNC President Ronna McDaniel said in January. She has since reaffirmed that Trump “still leads the party.”
Despite the financial support, the GOP and Trump have not always had a smooth relationship over the past year. In the final days of Trump’s presidency, Trump told McDaniel he was quitting the GOP and forming his own political party, only to back down after McDaniel threatened to stop paying Trump’s legal bills for his post-election challenges, according to an ABC News book The Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl.
Trump and McDaniel have denied the story.
Shortly thereafter, Trump and the party clashed again over the use of Trump’s name in fundraising, with the GOP ultimately reaching an agreement to use his name.
In addition to covering many of Trump’s legal bills, the RNC has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to support lawsuits across the country “to ensure the integrity of our election,” RNC spokeswoman Danielle said. Alvarez.
Preparing for the 2022 electoral cycle, the RNC has put in place an aggressive “national electoral integrity program”, engaging in election-related lawsuits in states such as Georgia, Florida, Arizona and the United States. Texas, posting state directors in battlefield states, hiring hundreds of state-level attorneys, and training thousands of poll observers.
The party is engaged in 30 of these lawsuits for “electoral integrity,” Alvarez said, with financial disclosures showing payments of $ 500,000 to law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, more than $ 260,000 to McGuireWoods and $ 243,000 to Consovoy McCarthy PLLC.
Even with all the legal expenses, the RNC has continued to build up a huge war chest over the past year. Backed by megadoners including Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman and casino mogul Steve Wynn, the RNC ended November with more than $ 65 million in cash.