Push to pay Trump legal bills grows within Republican National Committee

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump attends a pre-trial hearing at Manhattan Criminal Court on February 15, 2024 in New York City. 

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A growing number of Republican National Committee members believe its campaign arm should help pay mounting legal bills for former President Donald Trump, a move that could strain the party’s ability to financially support other candidates in the 2024 election.

RNC Committeeman Solomon Yue, who is from Oregon, told CNBC he believes “more than a majority” of members are in favor of helping offset the bills from Trump’s lawyers in four pending criminal cases, and at least three other civil cases.

“I support the RNC paying President Trump’s legal bills,” Yue said.

That support by Yue and others led to the defeat Tuesday of a proposed resolution by RNC committee member Henry Barbour that would have barred the group from paying those bills once Trump becomes the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who is a billionaire.

“The resolution is dead,” Barbour told Reuters.

He did not return CNBC’s request for comment.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley dropped out of the Republican presidential nomination contest Wednesday, making it all but certain that Trump soon will collect the minimum 1,215 delegates he needs to become the party’s presumptive nominee.

When Barbour first proposed his resolution in February, Trump’s senior campaign advisor Chris LaCivita — who Trump has endorsed to become the next RNC chief operating officer — told reporters the committee would not be used to pay Trump’s legal bills.

And the RNC historically has raised money to support candidates up and down the ballot, not to pay for a candidate’s legal bills.

But that history and LaCivita’s promise might not matter given the level of support for the idea by a growing group of the RNC’s voting members.

Ronna McDaniel, who has led the RNC since 2017, plans to step down at its spring meeting in Houston on Friday.

There also might be a decision made at that meeting on whether the RNC will pay for Trump’s legal bills.

Trump’s political operation paid almost $50 million for legal fees last year, according to an NBC News analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

Those fees are likely to be even higher this year as Trump faces more than 90 criminal counts in cases related to efforts to reverse his loss in the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, his retention of classified documents after leaving the White House, and a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

Trump is also trying to reverse three civil case judgments in courts in New York that have ordered him to pay nearly $550 million in damages.

The RNC, meanwhile, entered February with just $8.7 million on hand after raising around $11 million.

The party’s relatively paltry coffers could improve once Trump starts to fund-raise with the RNC.

Yue said Trump’s expected efforts to raise money for the RNC justifies the idea of the committee paying his legal fees.

Yue believes that part of the RNC’s larger fundraising efforts should be focused on helping offset Trump’s legal fees as part of his election campaign against Biden.

“Winning this lawfare is to defeat Biden’s reelection in November,” Yue said in an email to CNBC. 

“The only mission of the Republican National Committee is to elect our presumptive nominee Trump as the 47th President,” Yue wrote.

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Another RNC committee member, Roger Villere of Louisiana, in an email to CNBC said, “I believe the RNC should pay President Trump’s legal bills.”

” I know we will be raising the money needed for that as well as electing our Republican candidates this fall,” Villere wrote.

Another RNC member, Paul Reynolds of Alabama, pointed to its current lack of cash on hand as a reason the committee should help Trump with his legal fees.

“The only funds the RNC will have (above keeping the lights on and hopefully making payroll) will come from the amazing efforts of Trump to raise money,” Reynolds wrote in an email.

“So the new money coming into the RNC will be due to the efforts of Trump and the Trump organization (not the current cash-strapped RNC),”  Reynolds added.

“What then is my basis/argument for not paying Trump’s legal expenses when it is money the Trump organization is bringing to the table?” he asked.

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