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Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Republican attorneys general group sponsored pre-riot Trump rally

CORRECTION: This article has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly listed one of the donors to the Rule of Law Defense Fund.

The chairman of an organization that sponsored President Trump’s rally that preceded the assault on the nation’s capital on Wednesday is distancing himself from the event and has ordered an investigation into how the sponsorship was approved.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was selected in November to lead the Rule of Law Defense Fund, or the RLDF, described as the policy branch of the Republican Attorneys General Association, an organization that says its mission is electing Republican attorneys general.

The RLDF has been reported as one of the sponsors of the “March to Save America,” where Trump spoke on Wednesday and urged attendees to go to the capitol where Congress was counting the votes of the electoral college, finalizing Joe Biden’s presidential election.

At least five people, including a police officer, died during the violence that erupted as Trump supporters breached the Capitol, sending members of Congress and staff into hiding for hours until the invasion was repelled.

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In response to questions to his office from the Legal Examiner, Marshall issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

“I was unaware of unauthorized decisions made by RLDF staff with regard to this week’s rally. Despite currently transitioning into my role as the newly elected chairman of RLDF, it is unacceptable that I was neither consulted about nor informed of those decisions.  I have directed an internal review of this matter.

“As I’ve previously stated, I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the actions of those who attempted to storm the U.S. Capitol, a place where passionate but peaceful protestors had gathered and lawmakers debated inside.  Our country is built upon the foundation of the rule of law. American democracy guarantees the right of peaceful protest. Those who chose to engage in violence and anarchy should and will be held accountable under the law.”

Marshall’s office referred further questions to the Republican Attorneys General Association. However, that organization did not immediately respond to an email from the Legal Examiner.

The connection of RLDF to the rally was first reported by Documented.net, which said RLDF has received at least $175,000 from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative Koch brothers. Other sizable donors include Comcast Corp., Walmart, Amazon, TikTok, Chevron, Facebook and the National Rifle Association, as well as Fox, Exxon, Coca Cola and Google.

RLDF has a bit of a controversial reputation as a so-called dark money organization, a tax-exempt fundraising group that does not disclose its source of funds. During his 2017 confirmation hearings, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was questioned extensively about his involvement with the group, which he had formerly chaired. Pruitt was formerly Oklahoma’s attorney general.

According to tax filings posted by Pro Publica, RLDF had $907,000 in total revenue and $937,024 in total expenses in 2017. 

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody

Miller was one of 17 state attorneys general who supported a failed bid by Texas asking the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the election. 

 Another was Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose official state biography had said as of Thursday that she was “appointed to the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General and to the Board of Directors for the Rule of Law Defense Fund.”

By Friday afternoon, however, that information was no longer on her official biography. 

In response to an email from the Legal Examiner about the rally and her involvement with RLDF and its sponsorship of the rally, Moody’s spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone Cassedy wrote, “Attorney General Moody swiftly condemned the violence on Wednesday and continues to do so. She has no knowledge of the acts presented in this article.”

Cassedy said she was referring to the Documented.net article, which described RLDF’s sponsorship of the rally. Cassedy also said Moody had not been on the organization’s board since last year.

News reports have also identified Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge as being associated with the RLDF. The RLDF’s LinkedIn page lists just its executive director, Peter Bisbee, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes as employees. 

Archived versions of the website of the “March to Save America” list several participating organizations, including RLDF, Moms for America, Turning Point Action, Tea Party Patriots and Women for America First. 

Trump’s comments at the rally have been criticized as inciting the violence at the Capitol. Among other things, the president said, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

Contact Elaine Silvestrini at Elaine@legalexaminer.com. Follow her on Twitter at @WriterElaineS.