The Republican Party is paying up to $1.6 million of former President Donald Trump’s legal bills related to the investigations about his business practices in New York, with a spokeswoman saying it’s “entirely appropriate” to help him fight back against the attacks that are being made.
The payments were approved during a meeting of the Republican National Committee’s executive committee this summer in Nashville, reports The Washington Post, quoting four committee members and others with knowledge of the situation who spoke under the condition of anonymity while describing the private meeting.
“The RNC’s Executive Committee approved paying for certain legal expenses that relate to politically motivated legal proceedings waged against President Trump,” Emma Vaughn, a GOP spokeswoman, confirmed in a statement Thursday. “As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP. It is entirely appropriate for the RNC to continue assisting in fighting back against the Democrats’ never-ending witch hunt and attacks on him.”
The GOP has already reported, through its campaign finance filings, that it paid the law firm of Ronald Fischetti two payments totaling $121,670 in October. Fischetti is representing the former president in the investigations by Democrat Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat.
Vance’s investigation involves alleged criminal matters, while James has launched a civil probe. Both say their investigations are not politically motivated.
James has already demanded a deposition from Trump, but The Post points out that the former president himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, a party official said the RNC also paid $578,000 in November to attorneys known to be representing Trump and his businesses, the newspaper reported.
More payments are expected over upcoming months, and the executive committee could also end up approving amounts beyond the $1.6 million threshold, the newspaper’s sources said.
The RNC on Thursday confirmed it has paid Fischetti again in November, and that it made payments to two new law firms.
One of the new attorneys, Susan Necheles, responded in a brief statement that she represents “President Trump personally and I also represent the Trump Organization.”
Necheles was listed as an attorney for two of Trump’s corporate entities when Vance indicted them and longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg this summer on tax fraud charges.
The other payments went to the law firm of Michael van der Veen, a personal injury and defense lawyer from Philadelphia. Van der Veen, who served as part of Trump’s defense team in his second impeachment trial, did not respond to a question about his current work for Trump, and Fischetti declined to comment.
Campaign finance experts say there is nothing illegal about the RNC’s plan to help Trump with the legal fees for himself or his businesses, but longtime party observers say the arrangement is unusual because it is not related to promoting the party’s agenda or political priorities. Further, the observers note that the investigations do not involve the time when Trump was in the White House.
Party officials say Trump remains the party’s biggest fundraising draw, and Trump advisers say RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks with him regularly.
Paul Seamus Ryan, a campaign-law expert at Common Cause, said it would not have been legal for Trump to spend his own campaign funds on legal fees, but that ban doesn’t reach to the RNC.
However, he said the move is an “abuse of donor trust.”
“I’ve been following money in politics closely for more than two decades, and I’m unaware of any similar past abuse of donor trust and donor money to pay personal legal bills of private citizens,” Ryan told The Post.