Trump freewheels at RNC fundraiser, talks trade dealings with Trudeau

RNC paying for Trump's legal fees
RNC paying for Trump's legal fees

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RNC paying for Trump's legal fees 01:58

Story highlights

  • Donors attended the dinner at the ritzy French restaurant Le Cirque
  • They spent at least $35,000 per couple

New York (CNN)President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening huddled at an upscale restaurant here with some of his wealthiest donors and New York City friends, pulling in about $5 million for his campaign and the GOP.

The President arrived at the fundraiser Tuesday night in an especially jovial mood, attendees at the closed-door fundraiser said, delivering a freewheeling address that touched on everything from the controversy he stirred about NFL protests to tax reform, health care and his dealings with world leaders, in particular Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Unmentioned was the President's use of Republican National Committee funds to pay for his personal attorneys' fees stemming from the federal investigation into the Trump campaign's potential role in the Russian meddling during the 2016 election. The RNC confirmed last week it spent more than $230,000 on the President's legal bills in August.
    Republican donors attending the dinner at the ritzy French restaurant Le Cirque spent at least $35,000 per couple. A $100,000 donation got a couple of donors "VIP access," while anything over $250,000 earned the donors a seat at a table with the President ahead of his remarks, an RNC official said.
    Attendees at the high-dollar fundraiser, including New York billionaire John Catsimatidis and former NBC CEO Bob Wright, said Trump appeared to feel at home among the crowd, which included many of his former New York City real estate pals.
    As he delved into his conversations with world leaders, Trump explained that several of his counterparts have tried to dissuade him from his claims that the US is being taken advantage of by other countries, Catsimatidis said.
    He spoke in particular about an interaction with the Canadian prime minister, saying that Trudeau once argued that the US had an $11 billion trade surplus with Canada -- rather than the deficit Trump has long claimed, a source in the room told CNN.
    Trump asked one of his staffers to leave the room and check the numbers. The staffer returned to say that while Trudeau was correct, the numbers didn't account for the ways in which Canada has benefited from provisions in NAFTA Trump deems unfair, like on lumber.
    "With math like that, we'd all be broke," Trump quipped to the crowd of wealthy businessmen, the source said.
    Trump has vowed to renegotiate or end NAFTA, the free trade agreement between the US and Canada, and has struck a combative tone in the process.
    Catsimatidis said Trump told attendees he was pushing ahead on tax reform and did not dwell on the health care defeat.
    Wright, the former NBC executive, said Trump was equally in a good mood during the roundtable portion of the night.
    Wright said Trump focused in particular on the upcoming unveiling of the GOP's tax reform plan, saying he was excited about the plan.
    Trump did express in the roundtable portion how he was disappointed over Republicans' failure on tax reform and noted how tough it is to get consensus in Washington.
    Trump also spoke about the NFL during his speech, largely reiterating his position on the issue of the National Anthem protests and the importance of honoring the flag. He did not speak about the owners who condemned him or launch any new attacks, three attendees said.
    Notable attendees included Trump's children Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and several of his New York real estate pals, including Howard Lorber.
    The high-dollar fundraiser came a week after the RNC confirmed it is spending money from its legal fund to pay for Trump's legal bills -- as well as Trump Jr.'s.
    The RNC has also spent nearly $200,000 to support the legal fees of Trump Jr., who became a focus of the investigation after he admitted to meeting with a Russian attorney last summer he believed would provide him with incriminating information about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
    The Trump campaign is also paying some of Trump Jr.'s legal bills and spent nearly $700,000 in legal consulting fees -- or about 15.5% of its total expenses between April 1 and June 30, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report.
    The RNC payments to Trump attorneys were drawn from the party's legal expenses account, which allows the party to pay for legal bills stemming from its campaign activities.
    While donors must elect to donate to the legal fund, wealthy donors who pay to attend high-dollar fundraisers like Tuesday night's typically spread their money into several RNC accounts -- including its legal fund -- to stay in line with contribution limits.
    A June fundraiser hosted by "Trump Victory," the RNC-Trump campaign joint fundraising apparatus, funneled as much as 30% of its top-dollar donations to its legal proceedings account.
    An RNC spokeswoman declined to provide the breakdown of how funds raised from Tuesday night's dinner would be allocated.