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Inside the GOP Fight Over Trump’s Mounting Legal Costs  TIME

Donald Trump Addresses Presidential Forum At NRB Convention

Over the coming months, Donald Trump is set to carve out a singular place in American history: the first major party nominee to effectively run his campaign out of a courtroom. As Trump fights 91 felony indictments in four separate venues, some Republicans have a pressing question they want answered: How much money from the GOP machinery will go toward his legal expenses?

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The answer, Trump campaign officials say, is none. Sources close to Trump tell TIME the former President plans to pay his legal bills mostly through his personal checkbook and the help of allied Super PACs. But they are still mobilizing against a proposed resolution from a Republican National Committee member to ban party funds from covering Trump’s legal fees.

“It’s an insult,” says a Trump-allied committee member. “It’s kind of an F You to the Trump campaign. That’s why.” 

Drafted by Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, the measure comes as Trump marches closer to solidifying the Republican presidential nomination and seeks to install new loyalists to lead the organization. That includes his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who has previously said she was willing to funnel some of the group’s funds toward Trump’s multi-million-dollar stack of legal fees. 

But after Barbour released his resolution over the weekend, both Lara Trump and the Trump campaign adamantly denied any such plans. The Republican National Committee, they say, will remain narrowly focused on Trump’s election and helping GOP candidates win up and down the ballot. “The primary is over and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” says campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita, whom Trump tapped to take over the RNC’s money operation. 

For that reason, few expect the resolution to pass. “I wouldn’t bet on it,” says one RNC member. In fact, it’s not clear whether there will even be a vote. There’s no resolutions meeting on the agenda for the upcoming RNC gathering in Houston next month, a source familiar with the matter tells TIME. Even Barbour admits his motion stands little chance. “If there is any hint in the room that the Trump campaign doesn’t want it, it doesn’t have a prayer,” says Barbour. “But I felt like we needed to have this discussion.” 

Such a resolution would have no concrete impact, as it’s non-binding. If RNC members want to statutorily prevent the committee from paying Trump’s or any candidate’s legal fees, they would need to vote on a rule change at the Republican National Convention in July. While some insiders anticipate someone will float new rules on the issue, they expect those efforts to be shot down. “It’s going to be a pretty Trump crowd at the convention,” an RNC member says. 

There’s another reason why some Republicans worry about Trump’s legal expenses sucking up GOP resources: the party has been struggling to compete with Democrats on fundraising. The RNC recently reported that last year was its worst fundraising year in almost a decade, raking in $87.2 million, with only $8 million leftover by year’s end. During the same time, the Democratic National Committee raised $120 million, starting 2024 with $21 million on hand.  

The RNC has paid for Trump’s legal fees before. In 2021 and 2022, the RNC executive committee voted a handful of times to cover specific attorney fees to help Trump weather investigations from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James. Together, those disbursements amounted to roughly $1.6 million, according to multiple RNC sources, including Barbour. In late 2022, when Trump was signaling a third bid for the White House, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who is stepping down on March 8, said the committee would stop covering Trump’s legal bills once he declared his candidacy, citing the organization’s commitment to neutrality in primaries.

Since then, the former President’s legal woes have only mounted. Trump, who denies all wrongdoing, faces criminal prosecutions for allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments during the 2016 election; hoarding classified documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them; and attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

Read more: Trump’s First Criminal Trial Set to Begin on March 25 in New York

It’s not only lawyers’ fees putting Trump in a cash crunch. In January, a jury ordered Trump to pay the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of rape, $83.3 million for making defamatory remarks about her. And last week, a New York judge ordered him to pay $454 million in a civil fraud case, which Trump appealed on Monday.

Trump easily won the Michigan GOP primary on Tuesday, continuing a glidepath to the nomination that only gained traction last year as his legal liabilities grew. With each indictment, he rose in the polls and hauled in millions in fundraising. Throughout 2023, two pro-Trump Super PACs—Save America and MAGA Inc.—spent more than $50 million on his legal bills, with another $2.9 in January. Both groups explicitly solicit donations to cover the former President’s legal defense.

Sources close to Trump say he will continue relying this year on the PACs, as well as a GoFundMe account created by his supporters and his own personal wealth to support his legal defense.

For Barbour, that’s hardly reassuring. While McDaniel, as RNC chair, made a point of asking the organization’s executive committee to approve Trump legal payments, sources say there’s nothing requiring a future chair to continue that practice. That means the group could end up disbursing money for Trump’s courtroom battles unbeknownst to the membership. “I don’t think we’d find out about it,” Barbour says, “until somebody discovered it in an FEC report.”

Eric Cortellessa

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