Mar 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump's team hires lawyer to "watch the money" at RNC

Sean Cairncross speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit.

Sean Cairncross speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit. Photo: Riccardo Savi/Getty Images

Former President Trump's new team at the Republican National Committee has tapped former RNC executive Sean Cairncross to help run the party's operations and watch its spending in the run-up to the November election, two people familiar with the move tell Axios.

Why it matters: Cairncross, a former RNC chief operating officer, will rejoin the party's staff at a time when GOP critics are pressing the committee to curb what they view as excess spending under former chair Ronna McDaniel.

  • Trump campaign co-campaign manager and incoming RNC chief operating officer Chris LaCivita is bringing on Sean Cairncross to be his number two at the RNC.
  • Cairncross is a lawyer with a reputation of enforcing financial discipline — someone who can "watch the money," a top Trump adviser told Axios.

The big picture: It's part of a Trump-backed makeover at the RNC, which has included the party's elections of North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley and Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, to take over the committee.

  • LaCivita told Axios previously that the idea is to "maximize [RNC] resources" and focus the party's resources on "turning out voters" and building out "the best elections operations, including ballot security and voter integrity."
  • In a letter announcing her candidacy for RNC co-chair, Lara Trump wrote that the RNC would "do a deep dive through all of the RNC's existing contracts and vendor agreements, identifying what's useful and what isn't."

Trump's campaign has said that it will not use RNC funding to pay Trump's considerable legal bills, which could top half a billion dollars, per the AP.

  • The RNC faces a financial disadvantage compared to the Democratic National Committee after the RNC's fundraising difficulties last year.

Zoom in: Cairncross will be based in Washington D.C., while LaCivita will split his time between the RNC headquarters in D.C. and on the campaign trail with Trump.

Flashback: In 2018, Trump nominated Cairncross to head the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an American aid agency that provides large grants to well-governed poor countries. Cairncross was confirmed by the Senate the following year.

  • Before that, Cairncross was a deputy assistant to Trump and senior adviser to former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus.
  • Cairncross previously served as the chief operating officer at the RNC during the 2016 election. He also was general counsel and deputy executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2010 and 2012 cycles.

Reality check: Among the RNC's expenses last year: paying Cairncross for consulting.

  • The Cairncross Group received $271,409 from the RNC between November 2022 and December 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say Cairncross was senior adviser to former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, not John Kelly.

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