Trump’s RNC Takeover Could Mean Donors Will Pay Legal Bills Again

WASHINGTON ― Three years after agreeing to pay Donald Trump’s legal bills on the rationale that cases against him were “politically motivated,” the Republican National Committee could face pressure from its coup-attempting presumed nominee to pay not just tens of millions of dollars more in legal fees but more than $450 million in likely judgments against him.

“That’s why he wants ‘his people’ on the inside. It’s not about building up MAGA but rather getting MAGA to pay his bills,” said former RNC chair Michael Steele, referring to the “Make America great again” motto that’s become shorthand for Trump’s followers.

“The RNC and its donors have all been hoodwinked by the flimflam man,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and, because of that, a former RNC member. “There’s no rationale for any of it that makes sense in a rational world.”

Although Trump has won only a few dozen delegates of the 1,215 he needs to secure the GOP presidential nomination, he announced this week that one of his top aides, Chris LaCivita, would take over the party’s day-to-day operations while daughter-in-law Lara Trump would become the RNC’s co-chair.

And that has some RNC members worried that the same logic party officials used to justify spending donor money on Trump’s legal fees in 2021 could now be offered as a reason to cover some or all of the $88 million he must pay the woman he raped and then defamed, and the $370 million or more he will likely have to pay the state of New York for business fraud.

“We’re not in the business of indemnifying people for bad behavior,” said Oscar Brock, an RNC member from Tennessee. “Also, we don’t have $400 million. Last I heard, we have about $9 million, and that’s already committed for salaries and bills.”

Neither LaCivita nor Lara Trump responded to HuffPost queries on the matter. Steven Cheung, a campaign spokesperson, referred to an Axios story that contains the single line: “The senior official from Trump’s campaign said the RNC won’t pay Trump’s legal bills,” but it does not name the “senior official.”

In an Oct. 25 courtroom sketch from former President Donald Trump's business fraud trial in Manhattan, Trump is seated at the defense table as former personal attorney Michael Cohen's testimony is shown on a computer screen while Trump's attorney Christopher Kise stands to respond to an objection.
In an Oct. 25 courtroom sketch from former President Donald Trump’s business fraud trial in Manhattan, Trump is seated at the defense table as former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony is shown on a computer screen while Trump’s attorney Christopher Kise stands to respond to an objection.

Elizabeth Williams via Associated Press

RNC members said they had not heard of any move yet to resume paying Trump’s legal fees. “To my knowledge, those issues have not been raised,” said Jim Dicke, an RNC member from Ohio.

Others, including Brock, said they would oppose doing so if it is proposed. “I didn’t buy it the first time,” said Henry Barbour, a longtime member from Mississippi.

In 2023, Trump spent $54.2 million raised almost exclusively from donors who gave $5 or $20 or $50 a month ― a vast number of them retirees ― to pay lawyers defending the former president in the various civil and criminal cases, a HuffPost analysis of Federal Election Commission filings found.

As the near-certain Republican nominee in an election year, donations to both him and the RNC are likely to increase dramatically, particularly after a joint fundraising agreement is finalized that would let a single donor contribute upwards of $1 million, with nearly all of that spread among the party’s various funds.

No fund, however, is designed to pay the extraneous legal costs of someone who is not an employee or officer of the committee. But that did not stop the RNC from picking up $1.6 million of Trump’s fees starting in 2021, when Trump had been threatening to run as an independent candidate in 2024.

That decision was made at the party’s highest levels, by RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and the RNC’s “executive committee,” bypassing the budget committee that normally handles such outlays.

When Trump was considering announcing his 2024 run before the 2022 midterm elections, which many analysts predicted would hurt Republicans even more than Trump’s continued presence on the national stage, McDaniel helped dissuade him, in part by pointing out that the party could not longer pay his legal bills once he was a declared candidate since the party had to remain neutral during the primaries.

A year and a half later, although former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley remains in the GOP race against Trump, the party is already acknowledging that Trump will be the nominee in a matter of weeks. McDaniel, who was handpicked by Trump to run the RNC after his unexpected victory in 2016 and who then subsequently won three reelections with his support, is now stepping down at his request, to be replaced by North Carolina state party chair Michael Whatley, who has more aggressively spread lies that fraud was behind Trump’s 2020 election loss. Lara Trump is to become co-chair, which would let her sit on all the party’s committees.

Trump’s legal fees could increase in 2024 to even beyond the $54 million total from last year. Two and possibly three of his criminal cases could go to trial this year: the federal prosecution for his actions related to the Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt; a Georgia state prosecution for attempts to overturn his election loss there; and his New York state indictment on charges of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush-money payment to a porn star just ahead of the 2016 election. A fourth trial, on federal charges related to his refusal to turn over classified documents he took with him to his South Florida country club after leaving office, does not appear likely to take place this year because the judge, appointed by Trump, has made multiple rulings in his favor that have slowed down the proceedings.

In addition to the trials, Trump is also spending heavily on appellate lawyers who are currently arguing before the Supreme Court that he has “total immunity” from federal prosecution for actions he took while he was president. He is also planning to appeal both the New York state business fraud judgment and the defamation judgment, both of which will incur substantial legal fees.

Despite all of this, though, Trump has won the first three Republican nominating contests and has large leads in the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary as well as the 16 Super Tuesday contests on March 5.



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