Malfeasance Central: RNC is Paying Trump Organization’s NY Legal Bills in a criminal prosecution
Lots of shoes to drop.
RNC Is Paying Trump Organization’s NY Legal Bills
The Republican National Committee is paying some personal legal bills for former president Donald Trump, spending party funds to pay a lawyer representing Trump in investigations into his financial practices in New York, a party spokeswoman said Monday.
In October, the RNC made two payments totaling $121,670 to the law firm of Ronald Fischetti, a veteran defense attorney whom Trump hired in April. According to a person with direct knowledge of the payments, the requests came earlier this summer but were only voted on by the party’s executive committee in recent weeks.
Fischetti has been representing Trump as he faces investigations by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). There has been no indication that either investigation involves Trump’s time as president, or any of his political campaigns.
This fall, the Federal Election Commission faulted the RNC for paying for those lawyers out of an account devoted to recounts and other election-related proceedings. The FEC stopped short of exacting penalties, saying it had yet to “provide guidance” on rules for the segregated account.
After the indictment of the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer this summer for income tax fraud, prosecutors now appear to be examining whether the company broke the law by providing low values to property tax officers, while using high ones to garner tax breaks or impress lenders.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has said she is considering a lawsuit, and prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office have also convened a new grand jury, which could vote on criminal charges, according to the people familiar with the investigations.
Among the other properties under scrutiny: former president Donald Trump’s California golf club, for which he valued the same parcel of land at $900,000 and $25 million depending on the intended audience, and an estate in suburban New York, for which Trump’s valuations ranged from $56 million up to $291 million. The valuations were all given in the five years before Trump won the presidency.
Prosecutors appear to have dug deeply into these properties, according to court papers and people familiar with the investigation. They have compiled reams of emails, planning documents and financial data, even seeking the initiation fees Trump charged golf club members as far back as a decade ago. In Los Angeles, they have asked for geology reports on the rock layers under Trump’s course — where the value was affected by a history of landslides.
They have also sought detailed records from two outside companies that worked with the Trump Organization to formulate these valuations: appraisal firm Cushman & Wakefield and law firm Morgan Lewis. In court filings, prosecutors have referred to emails in which they said Trump executives or a Morgan Lewis lawyer pushed appraisers to change their findings. Neither Morgan Lewis nor Cushman & Wakefield responded to questions.
Real estate appraisers said it was highly unusual for any property owner to give such widely different values for the same property during the same time period.
“This is way, way beyond anything that’s believable,” said Norm Miller, a professor of real estate finance at the University of San Diego who has appraised properties for 50 years. “I’ve never seen anything with a gap that extreme.”
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