Trump team insists RNC funds wouldn't cover his legal bills, as party leadership change looms

He's backing his daughter-in-law as the new co-chair.

February 22, 2024, 2:17 AM

"Absolutely none" of the Republican National Committee's funds will be used to pay former President Donald Trump's multimillion-dollar stack of legal bills, a senior Trump campaign adviser insisted to ABC News as the former president's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, says that "every single penny" of the party's funds should be prioritized toward his reelection.

"Every penny will go to making sure Donald Trump will be the 47th president, to ensuring that we have great candidates to expand our lead in the House and to take back the Senate," Lara Trump, who was recently endorsed by the former president to head the RNC as co-chair, said to ABC News after her first surrogate event in South Carolina on Wednesday.

That echoes what she said on Newsmax earlier in February, that "every single penny will go to the No. 1 and the only job of the RNC ... Every single penny will go to the number one and the only job of the RNC."

Later on Wednesday, at another event in South Carolina, Lara Trump told reporters that among her key roles as the RNC's co-chair would be to "raise a ton of money," saying, "We have to have a huge fundraising push."

When pressed on whether any of RNC money would go toward covering Trump's legal bills, she remained noncommittal: "I actually don't know where they stand on that."

Asked if she would support the RNC paying Donald Trump's legal bills, Lara Trump said she believes "his legal bills have already been covered at this point" -- citing a GoFundMe page set up by Trump supporters upset about his many court battles.

"They can see just how egregious and outrageous all of this is that he has to deal with," she contended.

Donald Trump faces 91 criminal charges and has pleaded not guilty, along with other civil matters. He denies all wrongdoing.

Trump campaign officials say that instead of the RNC footing his legal bills, the candidate's fundraising entities, including the leadership PAC Save America as well as Donald Trump himself, will continue to cover the costs.

PHOTO: Lara Trump, daughter-in-law to former President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump, speaks at a VFW Hall in Beaufort, S.C., Feb. 21, 2024.
Lara Trump, daughter-in-law to former President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump, speaks at a VFW Hall in Beaufort, S.C., Feb. 21, 2024.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this month, amid reporting that RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel discussed stepping down with the former president, he endorsed North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley as the new chair of the national party and said he would support Lara Trump as the co-chair, with his senior campaign adviser Chris LaCivita as the chief operating officer -- growing evidence of the Trump campaign pushing for the party's national leadership to largely merge their operations ahead of the election.

Lara Trump on Wednesday praised McDaniel for her work as RNC chairwoman but said "it's time for change" and that she believes McDaniel acknowledges that too. The RNC has said that its leadership will be resolved after the South Carolina presidential primary on Saturday.

"I think that fresh eyes are always good on a situation," Lara Trump said. "I think Ronna has been there for a while and I think she probably herself feels like it's time for a new chapter and time to pass on the torch."

The former president's various court battles have cost his various political fundraising committees more than $50 million in legal expenditures throughout last year and another $2.9 million just in January -- amid growing questions about whether the Republican Party committee would begin to foot any of his bills again with donor money if the party unites its fundraising operation with his campaign.

Both the RNC and the Trump campaign have also been in something of a cash crunch as they ramp up for the 2024 general election, while President Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Committee's joint fundraising operation -- because Biden is not facing the same kind of contested primary as Trump -- boasts a $130 million war chest entering February.

A former RNC member who spoke with ABC News anonymously in order to share their candid thoughts on a potential merge between the RNC and Trump campaign operation said they thought that rather than any significant shift in spending from a reorganized national party, the focus of new leadership would be on bolstering fundraising efforts.

When asked what they thought about Lara Trump's comments that "every penny" should go toward her father-in-law, this former member said that, historically, most of the budget has already gone toward the presidential race and that the party would likely be unable "to get away" from their assistance to certain House and Senate races.

"I would say 75% of the [budget] is for the presidential," the former member said. "I would say that the other part of the role of the RNC is to be in direct support of the parties that have targeted races in their states ... I don't see how the RNC is going to get away from that."

PHOTO:Senior adviser for the Trump campaign Chris LaCivita makes a flashes a V sign during a Caucus Night watch party in Las Vegas, Feb. 8, 2024.
Senior adviser for the Trump campaign Chris LaCivita makes a flashes a V sign during a Caucus Night watch party in Las Vegas, Feb. 8, 2024.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, LaCivita, with fellow senior Trump campaign adviser Susie Wiles, wrote in a memo that the campaign and the RNC should join forces so they can begin coordinating "convention planning, fundraising, strategy, and state party tactics" with two other Republican campaign groups in preparation for the general election.

Several state party chairs from battleground states, who asked not to be named because of their roles, along with GOP congressional strategists who spoke with ABC News agreed that they were not concerned about an overhauled RNC's disinvestment in their states or in key races.

Some of the most competitive House and Senate races are in California, Michigan and New York, where the RNC already has a robust ground game operation.

Lara Trump said on Wednesday that her priorities to revamp the RNC would include bolstering its organizing on the ground, increasing voter registration efforts and "legal ballot harvesting all across the country."

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump departs a pre-trial hearing in a hush-money case at Manhattan Criminal Court, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York.
Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump departs a pre-trial hearing in a hush-money case at Manhattan Criminal Court, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Questions around the RNC's potential new leadership and its spending stem from the party committee's history of footing Donald Trump and his allies' legal bills throughout multiple courtroom issues over the years.

During his presidency, the RNC covered hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills on behalf of Donald Trump Jr. and other close allies of the former president; and between 2021 and 2022, the RNC spent nearly $2 million in bills for Donald Trump related to investigations in New York.

That spending was approved by a vote of the RNC's Executive Committee, per a party resolution adopted in 2009.

That same resolution would require that any significant contributions to Donald Trump's future legal bills be considered beyond just the top rungs of RNC leadership.

Legal contributions to the former president have long been a divisive subject among some Republican supporters -- with some major longtime donors even halting their contributions to the RNC.

Trump primary rival Nikki Haley has attacked the push to have Lara Trump become party co-chair, saying on ABC's "This Week" that "We don’t anoint kings in America. ... He’s trying to control the RNC."

During the 2022 midterms, ABC News reported that some leaders of the RNC attempted to use legal bills as a leverage to delay Donald Trump's announcement of his third presidential bid as they worried he could hurt their election chances if he announced too soon.

Both he and McDaniel denied the story at the time, but he eventually launched his third presidential bid after the 2022 midterms.

The RNC continued to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills related to Donald Trump up until his announcement of 2024 candidacy, including nearly $200,000 paid to attorneys representing him in criminal cases in New York.

The RNC could not be reached by ABC News for comment on their contributions to Trump's past legal bills.

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