The Republican National Committee is paying some of former President Donald Trump's personal legal bills in a New York criminal investigation examining his company's business practices, the RNC acknowledged on Monday.
The RNC paid $121,670 to the law firm of Trump attorney Ronald Fischetti after a request from Trump's team over the summer, according to The Washington Post. The RNC's executive committee approved the payments in recent weeks, a source told the outlet. Though some in the party have urged RNC chair Ronna McDaniel to show more independence from the former president, her allies told the Post that "Trump remains the biggest fundraising draw for the party, and it is important to stay in his good graces."
The payments are highly unusual, especially since the New York investigation, led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, has nothing to do with Trump's presidential campaigns or his time in the White House. Rather, it's a long-term criminal inquiry into the business practices of the Trump Organization and various other Trump private entities. A source familiar with the RNC decision told the Post that the party agreed to help pay Trump's bills after James vowed to aggressively investigate the former president's businesses during her 2018 campaign for her current seat, even though Trump has not been personally or directly accused of wrongdoing to this point.
"I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn," James told supporters in her victory speech.
The source told the outlet that the RNC is not paying Trump's other legal bills, including those stemming from his battle with the House committee investigating his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"As a leader of our party, defending President Trump and his record of achievement is critical to the GOP," the RNC 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."
The RNC has previously helped fund Trump's legal bills, despite his claim to be a billionaire and his own massive political fundraising operation, which has more than $100 million in cash on hand, according to the Post.
"The RNC is our important partner in advancing America First policies and fighting back against the endless witch hunts," Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told the outlet. "The Democrats have become obsessed with weaponizing their offices against President Trump, which is a complete abandonment of their Constitutional obligations."
The RNC previously paid for lawyers that represented Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia probe and other campaign-related investigations. The payments drew a Federal Election Commission complaint because the funds came from an account intended only for recounts and other election-related proceedings, though the FEC ultimately dismissed the complaint because it had yet to "provide guidance" on the use of such accounts. The latest payments came from the RNC's general account, which means they are unlikely to violate campaign finance law, Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told the Post.
But party committees have avoided paying personal legal bills over concerns that they could lose their tax-exempt status. While the RNC's spending in the Russia probe was related to Trump's presidency and campaign, the idea that the New York criminal probe is linked to Trump's politics "seems like a real stretch," Fischer told the outlet.
"Ronna McDaniel and the Republican National Committee are using their donors' money to finance Trump's personal legal defense while he sits on hundreds of millions of his own money as well as campaign funds," Adonna Biel, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, told CNN. "This is today's GOP — a party that will do anything for a divisive and incompetent ex-president who cost their party the House, Senate, and White House and thousands of Americans their lives and livelihoods. If we were the RNC's donors, we would certainly be asking questions."
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New York prosecutors have been investigating the Trump Organization for years. Vance over the summer indicted longtime Trump Organization financial chief Allen Weisselberg and two of Trump's companies on charges of felony tax fraud. Weisselberg and the Trump companies have pleaded not guilty.
Vance earlier this month convened a new grand jury to hear new evidence in the investigation. Prosecutors are examining whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of its assets to secure loans while deflating the value of the same assets on its tax bills, which former longtime Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen alleged during testimony before Congress in 2019. Cohen has since met with New York prosecutors more than a half-dozen times.
Prosecutors are looking at documents related to properties like Trump's 40 Wall Street building, which the company told potential lenders was worth $527 million while telling tax officials it was worth $16.7 million, according to the Post. The company's valuation of its California golf club also ranged from $900,000 to $25 million, depending on the audience. An estate in the New York suburbs was similarly estate valued by the company at anywhere between $56 million and $291 million.
"This is way, way beyond anything that's believable," Norm Miller, a real estate finance professor at the University of San Diego, told the outlet. "I've never seen anything with a gap that extreme."
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