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‘Nothing about it is normal’: RNC payments to Trump lawyers irritate GOP officials

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Separate payments to Fischetti and Malgieri LLP totaling $ 121,670, listed in the committee’s latest file to the Federal Election Commission, were first reported on Monday. Ronald Fischetti, a partner at the New York-based firm, was hired by the Trump Organization in April as part of ongoing investigations into the financial practices of the real estate company by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and the attorney. General of State Letitia James.

An RNC spokesperson said the party’s executive committee had recently “approved the payment of certain legal fees related to politically motivated lawsuits against President Trump,” and defended the payments as “very appropriate. “while the party” continues[s] help fight the Democrats’ endless witch hunt and attacks on [Trump]. “

However, some RNC members and donors accused the party of breaking its own rules of neutrality and misplacing its priorities. Some of those same officials who spoke to CNN also questioned why the party would pay the legal bills of a self-proclaimed billionaire who sat on a $ 102 million war chest in July and has already used its various political committees to cover. legal fees. . According to documents filed by the FEC in August, the president’s former Make America Great Again committee has paid Jones Day more than $ 37,000 since the start of the year, while his super PAC Make America Great Again paid a total of $ 7.8 million to attorneys handling his 2020 election-related prosecutions.

“This is not normal. None of this is normal, especially since he is not only a former president but a billionaire,” said a former senior RNC official.

“What does all of this have to do with helping Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?” Added the official.

Bill Palatucci, a member of the New Jersey national committee, said the fact that the RNC made the payments to Trump’s lawyers in October was particularly frustrating given his own appeal to party officials that same month for resources additional as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack. Ciattarelli at the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.

“We certainly could have used $ 121,000,” Palatucci told CNN.

Although Murphy narrowly beat Ciattarelli to be re-elected, the surprisingly tight race in a state President Joe Biden carried by 15 percentage points in 2020 left Democrats in shock at what it might mean for their party. next fall.

“We were in the middle of a hand-to-hand fight trying to win and these resources could have helped us here. That speaks for itself of the priorities,” added Palatucci.

Another former RNC official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said the RNC’s decision to pay Trump’s legal bills represents “the big conundrum” that senior party officials face as they are trying to avoid putting their thumbs on the scales ahead of the 2024 GOP presidential primary, in which Trump continues to tease his potential candidacy, while maintaining a record fundraising pace with the help of the former president.

“Trump is helping them raise tons of money, but he is also likely to be a presidential candidate and it will be increasingly difficult for them to keep their distance,” the official said, while wondering why the RNC “has to pay for this when you have these super PACs making unlimited money for Trump.”

A third RNC official described the relationship between Trump and the National Party as “a hostage situation,” saying Trump could devastate the GOP if he decides to quit the party or encourages his supporters to stop contributing to it. at any time, including if the RNC no longer agrees to cover part of its legal bills.

“They cannot be separated from him because they need him,” said this person.

The RNC did not respond to a request for further comment.

As recently as last week, RNC President Ronna McDaniel cited the party’s statutes regarding neutrality while avoiding questions about Trump’s ambitions in 2024.

“I know you love to jump to 2024. I’m just not going to go. The party’s bylaws are you have to stay neutral,” McDaniel told reporters at a breakfast hosted by Christian Science Monitor.

One of the former RNC officials who spoke to CNN said that while they didn’t think the party was flouting its neutrality rules by covering Trump’s legal fees at the moment, he is likely to present problems to the government. committee later.

“There aren’t any nominations yet, so it doesn’t really go against that, but it sends a signal that it’s going to happen at some point,” the official said.

The question of whether the party organization could really be considered neutral to Trump if he runs again in 2024 – which his advisers say is increasingly likely – has been around since ‘he left office. Not three months after the former president decamped to Palm Beach, Florida in January, the RNC hosted part of its annual spring donor retreat in Mar-a-Lago – a move that included paying the club beach to use its facilities and meet the needs of an event. Around the same time, the party rejected a cease and desist letter from Trump’s team demanding that the GOP stop using his name in its fundraising appeals. The October payments to Trump’s attorneys are also not the first time the RNC has covered the personal legal bills of the former president or his associates. In 2017, CNN reported that the committee spent more than $ 230,000 to cover some of the then president’s legal fees related to the special adviser’s investigation into Russian election interference. The party also covered nearly $ 200,000 in legal defense costs for Donald Trump Jr., who became involved in the investigation of a meeting he had during the 2016 presidential campaign with a lawyer who, according to him, would provide damaging information about the opponent of his father, then presidential Democrat. candidate Hillary Clinton.

In either case, it remains unclear whether RNC donors were notified in advance that their contributions could be used to subsidize legal fees for the Trump family – an issue the Democratic National Committee seized on Tuesday.

“Ronna McDaniel and the Republican National Committee are using their donors’ money to fund Trump’s personal legal defense when he has hundreds of millions of his own money as well as campaign funds,” the spokeswoman said. of the DNC, Adonna Biel, in a statement. “If we were the RNC donors, we would definitely ask questions.

Trump has not been charged in either of the two investigations into his New York business dealings. However, longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was indicted by a grand jury in July on 15 counts relating to an alleged tax evasion scheme lasting more than a decade. .

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