Trump Has a New Sucker to Pay for His Latest Legal Bills

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

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Former President Donald Trump has tapped a familiar resource to pay his legal costs related to the Mar-a-Lago investigation: his supporters.

But perhaps more notable than who is paying for Trump’s legal bills is who isn’t.

The Republican National Committee, who have been footing many of Trump’s other legal costs for a year now, seem to have balked at the opportunity to cover Trump’s latest legal troubles surrounding the Mar-a-Lago document raid.

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On Wednesday, Politico reported that the RNC will not cover Trump’s legal costs for the investigation, which had simmered for more than a year before exploding when FBI agents conducted a search of Trump’s Florida home.

Those expenses have already topped $200,000. And Trump has paid the bill out of his Save America leadership PAC, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Those donor funds are defending Trump against a federal grand jury inquiry into whether he and his allies committed multiple crimes, including violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice, after he hoarded sensitive records at his Florida social club and refused to return them to their proper owner—the U.S. government—for more than a year.

It’s unclear why the RNC won’t pay for Trump’s defense in this matter, which some experts see as the most serious legal threat yet facing the former president. But it’s also still unclear exactly why the RNC chose to cover his other bills in the first place.

While the current inquiry appears to be the first investigation into crimes Trump may have committed after leaving office, the RNC began picking up the tab last year for costs related to an ongoing investigation into crimes Trump may also have committed when he was out of office—before he was elected.

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In December, The Washington Post reported that the RNC had agreed to pay up to $1.6 million in legal fees associated with investigations into Trump’s business practices in New York before he ran for president.

But since the first of those payments was reported in October 2021, the RNC has cracked that self-imposed ceiling, fronting nearly $1.75 million to attorneys defending Trump in those matters, according to Federal Election Commission data. The payments stopped in June, the data shows.

The arrangement is not strictly illegal, campaign finance experts say. But the Mar-a-Lago issue does raise questions of why the RNC may have drawn the line there—and why it started paying the New York costs in the first place.

Dan Weiner, director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told The Daily Beast that national parties like the RNC are subject to “very few restraints” on how they use money.

“There’s no real legal problem with these expenses, as long as the money comes out of the party’s general accounts,” Weiner said.

Brett Kappel, a campaign finance specialist at Harmon Curran, noted that while the legal proceedings target Trump in a personal capacity, the RNC doesn’t have to worry about that.

“Unlike campaign funds, which are subject to a prohibition on conversion to personal use, political party funds can be used for any legal purpose,” Kappel told The Daily Beast.

He noted that it’s difficult to escape the question of why the RNC saw fit to pay for one investigation it saw as politically motivated, but not another.

“Apparently, the RNC has decided to draw the line at paying legal fees related to possible crimes the former president may have committed after leaving office as opposed to possible crimes he may have committed before he even became a candidate,” Kappel said.

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Last September—incidentally, the month before the RNC first began paying Trump’s bills—the FEC reprimanded the RNC for paying legal bills in 2017 for Trump and his oldest adult son, Donald Trump Jr., out of the committee’s so-called “recount” bank account. The commissioners didn’t penalize the RNC, however, because the rules were new and the agency “has yet to provide guidance.”

Since then, the RNC has only tapped its general account to pay Trump’s lawyers.

However, the RNC hasn’t reported new payments since mid-June. The GOP didn’t report the expenses the next month, as Trump prepared for his Aug. 10 deposition in the New York Attorney General’s investigation.

That lapse came as Trump stepped up his own legal largesse. Trump’s PACs have paid around $2 million so far this year to firms representing witnesses in the Jan. 6 congressional investigation, The Daily Beast reported.

But that report didn’t cover the combined $350,000 that Trump’s leadership PAC paid two firms representing former White House adviser Peter Navarro, about a week after his arrest for defying a congressional subpoena.

In mid-July, Navarro began soliciting donations to a legal defense fund, with a stated goal of raising exactly $350,000. If Navarro were to use that money to repay Trump directly for fronting the legal costs, the former president would have passed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor money out of his PAC account and recouped it personally.

Like Trump, Navarro is currently under federal scrutiny for allegedly withholding government records in defiance of the Presidential Records Act.

Navarro didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Trump’s troubles in that department, however, appear far more serious, and seem to grow more dire all the time.

Last week, a federal judge unsealed a lengthy, heavily redacted FBI affidavit making the case that evidence of multiple crimes could be found at Mar-a-Lago. In a separate filing on Tuesday, prosecutors laid out still more evidence implicating the president and people close to him in those crimes—most specifically a scheme to obstruct the government’s investigation.

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That latest filing appeared to signal trouble for Trump’s own attorneys. One of them, Evan Corcoran, racked up a $36,000 payment in late July, a time where no reporting has revealed action in the Mar-a-Lago case.

The other, former right-wing TV personality Christina Bobb, has been on the PAC’s payroll since the end of March. Unlike Trump’s other attorneys, Bobb’s payments are not explicitly reported as being for legal work.

However, Bobb was reimbursed about $1,000 by the PAC for travel expenses on June 3. That’s the day that she signed a letter—at Mar-a-Lago—promising the FBI that Trump’s team had conducted a diligent search and recovered all documents responsive to a grand jury subpoena. That could force Bobb to get an attorney of her own.

One possible reason the RNC won’t be paying these attorneys is also deeply ironic. The RNC, like the Justice Department, has a policy to avoid the appearance of meddling in political matters.

ABC News reported in late July, before the Mar-a-Lago search, that the RNC has told Trump that the organization will not pay for his attorneys after he declares his 2024 candidacy, citing a “neutrality policy” that prohibits it from playing favorites in a presidential primary.

While still it’s unclear whether the RNC has pulled the plug for good, Jordan Libowitz, communications director for watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—which in January sent a letter to Trump reminding him that he would owe taxes on the RNC’s favors—welcomed the idea.

“A political party should not be paying the legal bills of a former president,” Libowitz said. “We don’t know why the RNC decided to stop now, but they never should have started in the first place.”

Spokespeople for Trump and the RNC did not reply to requests for comment.

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