The Republican National Committee is paying some personal legal bills for former president Donald Trump, spending party funds to pay a lawyer representing Trump in investigations into his financial practices in New York, a party spokeswoman said Monday.
Fischetti has been representing Trump as he faces investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). There has been no indication that either investigation involves Trump’s time as president or any of his political campaigns.
A person familiar with the RNC’s decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations said the organization was willing to foot the bills because James has made comments indicating she wanted to go after Trump. James in 2018 told supporters that she intended to investigate Trump, noting that “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings.” James has said her investigation is following the law and not guided by politics.
The RNC is not paying some of the president’s other bills, such as those for his court battles over the House Jan. 6 committee’s requests, said the person familiar with the RNC’s decision.
“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 wealthy businessman with dozens of properties, and he has built an independent political operation, which at last count had more than $100 million on hand.
“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.”
Fischetti’s firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Neither James nor Vance has formally accused Trump of any wrongdoing. The former president has called the investigations politically motivated.
This summer, Vance’s office indicted Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and two Trump corporate entities on charges of felony tax fraud. Weisselberg and the two companies have pleaded not guilty.
More recently, investigators have sought information about instances in which Trump’s company gave vastly different valuations of the same properties to lenders and tax authorities. Vance recently convened a new grand jury to hear evidence and potentially consider charges in the case. James — who is now a candidate for governor — has said she is also considering a lawsuit.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has come under pressure from some members to show more independence from Trump, but the majority of her 168 members continue to support the former president, party officials say. The party held a fundraiser in the spring at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, where Trump spoke, paying the club almost $200,000. McDaniel has stayed in regular touch with Trump. Her allies say that Trump remains the biggest fundraising draw for the party, and it is important to stay in his good graces.
It’s not the first time the RNC has covered Trump’s legal fees. While he was president, it paid for lawyers to represent Trump and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., during investigations of his 2016 campaign and his alleged connections to Russia.
This fall, the Federal Election Commission faulted the RNC for paying for those lawyers out of an account devoted to recounts and other election-related proceedings. The FEC stopped short of exacting penalties, saying it had yet to “provide guidance” on rules for the segregated account.
In this case, the payment to Fischetti’s firm came from a different pot of money, the RNC’s general account, according to FEC records.
Because of that, the payments to Fischetti are unlikely to run afoul of federal campaign finance law, said Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center. That’s because the ban on the personal use of funds from campaign committees does not apply to spending by party committees, he said.
But Craig Engle, head of the political law group at the law firm Arent Fox, said party committees have often avoided paying for personal expenses for another reason — fear that they might lose their tax-exempt status, for appearing to use nonprofit funds for their leaders’ personal benefit.
Engle said the RNC’s spending related to the Russia investigations was clearly connected to the then-president’s campaign and position in office. “It’s hard to quarrel with that,” Engle said.
But in this case, Fischer said, the idea that the investigations in New York are connected to Trump’s campaign or position in the party “seems like a real stretch.”
There was no sign that the RNC was paying legal bills for Trump’s companies or for any Trump Organization employees. One person familiar with the company said the Trump Organization itself — which is owned by Trump — was paying legal fees for Weisselberg. Weisselberg’s attorney, Mary Mulligan, declined to comment.