MILWAUKEE — With RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel making a cameo in Donald Trump’s federal indictment for his coup attempt, the Republican National Committee has instructed its members not to speak to news media covering its summer meeting and to report any journalists who approach them.
A memo sent to the 168 members last week tells them that in the event of protests or “unauthorized media activity” at the meeting hotel, to follow “best practices” and not engage.
“Do not congregate near the lobby or in public spaces, instead go directly to your next meeting location. Do not engage the protestors or media in any way,” the memo reads in its “security” section. It advises members to contact the RNC’s “member services” staff “if you are approached by any individuals from the press during your stay.”
This summer’s RNC meeting is wrapped around the party’s first 2024 primary debate Wednesday night. The memo does not state why members — who are elected by state party activists from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S territories — should not speak to the press, or why the summer meeting is closed to the press to begin with.
Not all RNC members, in any case, feel bound by the demands for secrecy.
“Ronna has been increasingly paranoid over her tenure. We have received explicit instructions not to talk with press,” said Oscar Brock, an RNC member from Tennessee.
McDaniel, who was originally hand-picked by Donald Trump in 2017 to run the national party after she helped him win her home state of Michigan in the 2016 election, is a likely witness in the federal prosecution of Trump for his attempt to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election.
In special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment last month, McDaniel is described as having worked with lawyer John Eastman, at Trump’s request, to help come up with fraudulent “electors” from several states as part of a scheme to overturn the election results during the Jan. 6, 2021, certification ceremony in Congress.
Eastman was described in the federal indictment as “co-conspirator 2” and was among the 19 people indicted for the same scheme in Georgia last week, as was Trump.
“During the call, co-conspirator 2 told the chairwoman that it was important for the RNC to help the defendant’s campaign gather electors in targeted states, and falsely represented to her that such electors’ votes would be used only if ongoing litigation in one of the states changed the results in the defendant’s favor,” the federal indictment reads in its 56th paragraph. “After the RNC chairwoman consulted the campaign and heard that work on gathering electors was underway, she called and reported this information to the defendant, who responded approvingly.”
McDaniel was not charged in either case, although a former RNC member from Georgia was charged in that state, as was a current RNC member from Michigan in that state for participating in fake elector schemes.
“Restricting the press from engaging with members is unprecedented. It is almost certainly a result of the number of crazies who can’t be controlled by the RNC handlers.”
RNC officials would not say why the summer meeting was closed to press, and would not address whether it had anything to do with McDaniel’s, and by extension, the RNC’s, involvement in Trump’s coup attempt.
The general sessions at RNC gatherings have historically been open to the news media, and in the years before McDaniel’s tenure, other meetings, such as those of the Rules Committee, had also been open to the press.
“Restricting the press from engaging with members is unprecedented,” said one GOP consultant attending the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is almost certainly a result of the number of crazies who can’t be controlled by the RNC handlers, which creates a big issue with roaming media.”
At the RNC’s 2021 winter meeting in Amelia Island, Florida, the day after Trump’s mob attacked the Capitol, RNC security asked a reporter who was not a registered guest at the Ritz-Carlton to leave the premises.
At the 2022 winter meeting in Salt Lake City, RNC security began demanding that reporters prove they were registered guests at the Grand America Hotel by showing room keys until a reporter posted about it on social media.
“They’ve always had a certain adversarial attitude toward the free press,” Brock said.
Trump is now facing four separate criminal indictments that could send him to prison for decades. He nevertheless remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party and the front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination.
McDaniel reportedly tried to persuade him to participate in Wednesday night’s debate in Milwaukee, but he is instead appearing on conspiracy theorist and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s series of taped interviews on the website X, formerly known as Twitter.