The Federal Election Commission won’t take action against the Republican National Committee for how it paid for the lawyers who represented then-President Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., in the various Russia investigations.
The campaign finance allegations against the RNC — which were filed with the FEC in 2018 — were dismissed by the commission in early September, but several of the documents related to its review of the matter were made public only this week.
At issue was the RNC’s apparent use of a fund designated for the costs associated with election-related legal proceedings — like recounts and contests — to pay for lawyers who represented Trump and Trump Jr. in the Russia probes by the Justice Department and Congress. Activities “paid for by the recount fund must have no relation to campaign activities,” the commission has previously said.
In a September letter to the RNC that was only recently made public, the FEC said that there “is nothing to suggest that, with respect to the payments at issue, either Trump or Trump Jr. were involved in an election recount, contest, or other such proceeding with ‘no relation to campaign activities.”
Still, the commission said, it has yet “to provide guidance” on the use of the recount funds, so it was dismissing the complaint against the RNC “as a matter of prosecutorial discretion.”
According to the documents made public this week, the acting FEC general counsel Lisa J. Stevenson in June issued a report to the commission that said the RNC recount fund appeared to have been “improperly used” and that the expenditures were likely “prohibited.” But, she said, the commission should give the RNC a pass, because the legal issues around the spending were novel and the FEC had not yet issued guidance on them.
The 2018 complaint also made campaign finance allegations against that Trump’s presidential campaign for its spending on legal representation for the campaign in DOJ and congressional Russia investigations.
The commission voted in September to dismiss that allegation, and its analysis concluded that the spending was permissible.
The commission’s review of the RNC and campaign’s spending was based on various news stories documenting expenditures to lawyers representing the Trump campaign, Trump in his personal capacity and others in Trump’s circle.
According to federal campaign finance records since 2017, Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee and Victory committee transferred nearly $28 million to the RNC related to the legal proceedings account. The RNC paid out more than $37 million on legal services in the same time frame, to dozens of different law firms in more than 30 states.
Some of them would have done legal work unrelated to the Russia investigation, such as typical campaign and redistricting legal work — though millions of dollars of the payments went to the high-end white collar defense law firms that represented major witnesses connected to Trump in the Russia probe.
The FEC’s analysis cited Reuters reporting on $100,000 in RNC spending that went to then-Trump Russia probe lawyer John Dowd and that the RNC paid $131,250 to a firm associated with Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Trump in the Russia investigations.
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