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RNC member introduces resolution to prevent Trump from using it to pay his legal bills

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump owes half a billion dollars in legal judgments right now. That number may grow as Trump fights 91 felony charges in four separate criminal cases. Can he pay with funds raised by the Republican National Committee? Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, has drafted a pair of resolutions ahead of next week's committee meeting in Houston. One, request the RNC to stay neutral during the primaries. The other would prevent the committee from paying Trump's legal bills. Henry Barbour joins us now from Yazoo City, Miss. Thanks so much for being with us.

HENRY BARBOUR: Hi, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: Mr. Barbour, why do you feel it's important for the RNC to stay neutral when it's hard to see how anybody else could defeat Donald Trump in the primaries?

BARBOUR: Well, just because he has the lead doesn't yet make him the nominee. He's got about 110 delegates won at this point, but he needs 1,215 to have a majority of the delegates. And he's going to have that soon. And and so, really, the neutrality resolution that we offered is in some respects obsolete, but we felt it was important to make the point. But I will say we are really focused on a resolution that deals with it. The RNC should spend its resources solely on winning elections and not paying any candidates' legal bills.

SIMON: Doesn't Donald Trump's campaign say that they won't do that?

BARBOUR: They have recently, and we appreciate the fact that the Trump campaign did issue a statement, and they said that they will not use RNC funds to pay any of President Trump's legal bills. And that's certainly good news because the RNC probably needs to raise upwards of $250 million this year to help our nominee win back the White House. And I think it's important for RNC donors to know when they give money that it's going towards winning elections.

SIMON: Haven't Republicans and Donald Trump actually been using his indictments and court judgments to raise an awful lot of money?

BARBOUR: Well, there's no question that when the courts came after Donald Trump, particularly when it started in New York, that it was a political benefit, but that's political. And it's a whole nother thing to say, oh, we're going to use, you know, political money - RNC dollars - to pay legal bills.

SIMON: There's a Republican National Committee leadership change that's on the agenda next week in Houston.

BARBOUR: Yes.

SIMON: Who do you support?

BARBOUR: There's going to be one candidate for chairman. And that's Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, and President Trump's daughter in law, Lara Trump, who also from North Carolina. I don't know, Lara. I know Michael well. Michael is an outstanding state party chair. I don't agree with the change that they're making, but I will say it's not unusual for a presidential nominee to come in once they have secured the nomination to influence the RNC and to have some of their staff people there.

I will say this is the first time since Eisenhower that we have changed chairs in a presidential election year. I don't think it's the - you know, the smartest play, but, you know, it's their call. And I plan on voting for Michael Whatley next week.

SIMON: If the Trump campaign says they won't use any RNC funds to pay Donald Trump's legal bills, why isn't that good enough for you? Why do you insist on a resolution?

BARBOUR: Well, number one, we offered a resolution, I think, before they said that. But, look, it's important to memorialize it and to put it into writing. I just think it makes it stronger.

SIMON: I mean, does it make it seem like you doubt their word?

BARBOUR: No. I don't doubt their word. Chris LaCivita, who is one of the guys running Trump's campaign, has said plainly that they're not going to use it. I take him at his word for it, but that doesn't mean I'm going to drop the resolution.

But, you know, frankly, you know, we don't expect it to pass before the full committee, but we will have made it an issue. And I think we will have emphasized that, look, the RNC has one job. It's winning elections. We should spend our money on winning elections and not paying anybody's legal bills.

SIMON: Henry Barbour serves as national committeeman for Mississippi on the Republican National Committee. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

BARBOUR: Scott, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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