“This is permissible and it’s being reported properly, but why they are doing it is a mystery,” said Brendan Fischer, senior counsel for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “One would think the RNC could be spending their money more effectively right now on the 2018 campaign, rather than spending it to pay Trump’s rent.”
So far, the party has spent more than $290,000 to cover the Trump campaign’s expenses since September, the first month it paid the Trump Tower rent or Pence’s salary. Before then, both expenses had been paid directly by the Trump campaign.
Then, in late September, the RNC abruptly began paying them both, and still does, according to financial disclosure forms released this week.
On Sept. 19, CNN reported that the RNC had paid $230,000 in August to two lawyers representing Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The lawyers, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, were paid through their law firms using money from a special RNC legal fund, the RNC disclosed in a subsequent filing.
CNN also reported that the party spent $196,000 in early September on lawyers for Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., who was facing questions about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians who reportedly promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The August payments were disclosed by the RNC in a mandatory FEC report released Sept. 20. At the time, the party publicly defended its decision to pay Trump’s lawyers with RNC funds. But privately, officials debated whether this was a proper use of the legal defense fund, which was originally intended to help pay for things like vote recounts, according to news reports.
After a final payment on Sept. 18 to lawyers for Trump Jr., the RNC quietly stopped paying those attorneys and Dowd and Sekulow.
On Sept. 27, one week after the FEC report was made public, the RNC paid the Trump campaign’s rent for the first time, according to the party’s monthly disclosure. The initial amount, $75,083.34, was twice the monthly rate and appears to cover the rent for both September and October. John Pence had begun receiving a paycheck from the RNC on Sept. 15, before the first FEC report was released, but after it had been finalized and submitted, according to the same filing.
Below is the FEC’s original record of the first rent payment the RNC made to Trump Tower.