WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee’s WinRed platform is raising money for Jan. 6 witness and former Donald Trump aide Kash Patel’s legal defense fund, further tying the national party to the insurrection Trump incited in a last-ditch attempt to remain in power.
“I’m done playing defense. It’s time to go on the offensive! That’s why I’m fighting back. But to win, your support is critical to helping me reach my $250k goal to fund a top-notch legal team,” Patel’s webpage text explains, beside a giant photo of him standing next to Trump. “So, make a gift now to help me strike a major blow to the far-Left media and Big Tech!”
While many participants and witnesses involved in the assault on the Capitol are scrambling to create GoFundMe accounts, the former president’s hand-picked Pentagon chief of staff has access to the RNC’s portal, rolled out two years ago to help GOP candidates and committees raise small-dollar donations.
Patel, though, is not running for anything. Rather, donations go to the “Kash Patel Legal Offense Trust,” which, according to wording at the bottom of the webpage, “will be allocated for purposes including (but not necessarily limited to) valid legal expenses.”
The website does not specify how else Patel might spend the money he collects.
Unlike campaign accounts that must file detailed periodic statements of how their money is disbursed, Patel is under no obligation to reveal how he spends gifts to his trust.
Patel did not respond to HuffPost for days, but late Friday, hours after publication, his spokesperson Erica Knight said, “The Kash Patel Legal Offense Trust was established several months ago, to assist Mr. Patel in raising funds to help fellow Americans who felt they had been silenced or censored by the media and big tech.”
She continued: “Mr. Patel continues to engage with the committee and will always tell the truth about the events of Jan. 6.”
RNC officials did not respond to HuffPost queries. Nor did Gerrit Lansing, the former RNC staffer who founded Revv, the payment processing firm underlying WinRed, or Data Trust, the secretive nonprofit that manages the RNC’s voter database. Revv and Data Trust jointly own WinRed on a 60-40 basis.
One top Republican familiar with Data Trust said many donors will be displeased when they learn of Patel’s arrangement. “There are certain benefactors who would not be happy about being involved with Jan. 6,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Another Republican official involved in WinRed’s creation but who is no longer associated with it said he was unaware the platform was being used to help Patel. “Maybe they’re doing legal defense funds now,” he said, also on condition of anonymity.
It is unclear whether WinRed is hosting any other legal defense funds. It does handle payments for Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC, which through June 30 has paid law firms many hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal fees. It has also paid $80,562 to National Public Affairs, the political consulting firm of Justin Clark, a former Trump campaign official now involved with Trump’s attempts to prevent the Jan. 6 House select committee from obtaining documents or witness testimony from his administration.
Early in the Trump years, Patel worked for California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, who while chairing the House Intelligence Committee worked to help Trump downplay the assistance his campaign received from Russia to win the 2016 election. Patel then went on to work in Trump’s White House on the National Security Council.
After Trump lost the Nov. 3 election, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who along with Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley had stated that it was inappropriate for the military to get involved with elections, and replaced him with Christopher Miller. Patel was installed as Miller’s chief of staff.
The House committee investigating Jan. 6 subpoenaed Patel last month because of his knowledge of Trump’s White House on Jan. 6 and the days and weeks leading up to it. The panel also cited news reports outlining a broader Trump scheme to take over the national security apparatus in his final days by firing CIA Director Gina Haspel and replacing her with Patel – a move that never came to pass.
Patel, according to the committee, has been “engaging” with investigators, and a closed-door deposition scheduled for Thursday was postponed.
Trump’s chief of staff on Jan. 6, Mark Meadows, was similarly permitted to delay his deposition because of his willingness to engage with the committee. Trump’s social media aide Dan Scavino’s deposition was also postponed because of how long it took the committee to find him and serve his subpoena.
Trump’s early top aide Stephen Bannon, however, has refused to cooperate with the committee, citing Trump’s request that he not do so. The committee has scheduled a Tuesday evening meeting to vote on a criminal contempt referral against Bannon, and is promising similar action against any others who do not cooperate in the probe.
Trump became the first president in 232 years of U.S. elections to refuse to turn over power peacefully to his successor.
He spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 contest he lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 that he had really won in a “landslide” and that victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.
Trump and some of his advisers even discussed using the United States military by invoking the Insurrection Act or declaring martial law to retain power, including by seizing voting machines and ordering “re-votes” in states narrowly won by President Joe Biden.
But military leaders had earlier made clear they would not involve themselves in the political process. So, after the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his own vice president into canceling the ballots of millions of voters in several states Biden won and declaring Trump the winner during the pro-forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.
Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day, and then told the tens of thousands who showed up to march on the Capitol to intimidate Mike Pence into doing what Trump wanted.
The mob of supporters he incited attempted to do just that by storming the building. They chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and four others took their own lives in the days and weeks that followed. One of the rioters was fatally shot as she climbed through a broken window into an anteroom containing still-evacuating House members, and three others in the crowd died during the melee.
While the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by their leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him – thereby letting Trump continue his political career even as faces several investigations into his post-election actions.
Trump and his allies are now engaged in a campaign to portray the rioter who was shot, Ashli Babbitt, as a martyr and the hundreds of others who have been arrested as victims of political persecution.
Trump himself continues to suggest he will run for the 2024 GOP nomination and is using his Save America committee’s money to continue spreading the same falsehoods that culminated in the violence of Jan. 6.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.