Q: "At the time, party and administration officials were working to determine whether executive branch staff members, who must comply with gift rules, could have their legal fees defrayed by the RNC or private legal defense funds."
A: They cannot.
The RNC, which seeks to influence White House policy, is a prohibited source of gifts under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203. Hope Hicks is in the clear if she left government before receiving this money, but it's not clear whether the other recipients were in government at the time.
Any White House officials whose attorneys received money from the RNC (or any other source) needed to disclose any money received *before* leaving govt in their termination financial disclosure reports. (This doesn't apply to money or fee waivers offered after leaving govt.)
There is a narrow exception for gifts from political organizations in connection with political participation, but that does not apply to money donated to cover legal expenses. 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204(f).
In case anyone is thinking of arguing that gifts from the RNC (or the DNC) is not covered by the gift rules because it is a political organization, here's a link to an opinion in which OGE held that such gifts are covered. https://oge.gov/Web/OGE.nsf/Legal%20Advisories/E5BFD9421F7E8FFF85257E96005FBEF6/$FILE/ba06dc93dc9c4eee90d637d70840f94d1.pdf?open …
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