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Steve Wynn talks about his proposed Everett casino and unveils a new model at a press conference in Malden, Mass. on March 15, 2016.
Steve Wynn talks about his proposed Everett casino and unveils a new model at a press conference in Malden, Massachusetts on March 15, 2016.Nancy Lane / MediaNews Group via Getty Images, file

Why the Justice Dept. sued former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn, the former RNC finance chair, was already a controversial figure. Then the Justice Department accused him of unregistered lobbying for China.


In April 2017, the Republican National Committee introduced the members of its four-member finance team, which would be responsible for helping raise money for Donald Trump and his party at the national level. As regular readers may recall, it turned out to be an unusual quartet.

For example, the group included Michael Cohen, who was at the center of multiple Trump-related scandals, and was even sentenced to prison before ultimately turning against the former president. Another deputy RNC finance chair was Elliott Broidy, who also found himself at the center of multiple controversies, and pled guilty in October 2020 to federal charges related to illegal lobbying. (He soon after received a pardon from Trump.)

They were joined by Louis DeJoy — currently the nation’s controversial postmaster general — who’s had some troubles of his own, including having faced an FBI investigation.

They were led, however, by casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Team Trump tapped five years ago to serve as the RNC’s national finance chairman. It would’ve been difficult to predict at the time just how scandalous this choice would ultimately become. The Associated Press reported:

The Justice Department sued longtime Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn on Tuesday to compel him to register as a foreign agent because of lobbying work it says he performed at the behest of the Chinese government during the Trump administration. The department said it had advised Wynn repeatedly over the last four years to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, and is suing now because Wynn refused to do so.

Before digging in on the latest allegations, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

After less than a year in his RNC position, Wynn was forced to resign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. That story grew more serious in the months that followed: An investigatory report later painted an ugly portrait of an executive accused of “sexually assaulting or harassing“ many women who worked for him.

In April 2019, state regulators concluded that Wynn’s company “ran a longstanding, sophisticated cover-up to protect founder Steve Wynn from allegations by employees that he had engaged in sexual misconduct against them.”

While some Republicans responded by donating Wynn’s contributions to charity, by last year, others in the party decided Wynn’s money was welcome anyway. In April 2021, for example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy not only celebrated Wynn’s financial support, the California Republican also boasted about working with the casino mogul in the future.

In the months that followed, a variety of Republican House and Senate candidates were also accepting generous campaign donations from Wynn, despite his controversies.

Before yesterday, this was a tough dynamic to defend. After yesterday, it’s even more difficult.

According to the Justice Department’s new lawsuit, Wynn — during his tenure as the RNC’s finance chair — did work on behalf of China’s government. From the federal prosecutors’ written statement:

According to the complaint, from at least June 2017 through at least August 2017, Wynn contacted [Donald Trump] and members of his administration to convey the PRC’s request to cancel the visa or otherwise remove from the United States a Chinese businessperson who left China in 2014, was later charged with corruption by the PRC and sought political asylum in the United States. Wynn engaged in these efforts at the request of Sun Lijun, then-Vice Minister of the MPS. Wynn conveyed the request directly to the then-President over dinner and by phone, and he had multiple discussions with the then-President and senior officials at the White House and National Security Council about organizing a meeting with Sun and other PRC government officials.

Wynn’s company had business interests in Macau, and the Justice Department alleges that Wynn acted at the request of Chinese officials “out of a desire to protect his business interests in Macau.”

Or put another way, federal prosecutors believe that Team Trump picked an RNC finance chair who improperly lobbied on behalf of China’s government.

Given his efforts, federal law enforcement believes Wynn had a legal responsibility to register as a foreign agent. Since he’s refused, the Justice Department is now taking him to court.

Wynn’s lawyers have said they will contest the allegations, insisting that Wynn “never acted as an agent of the Chinese government.”

Whether any of the Republican beneficiaries of Wynn’s generosity feel compelled to return his contributions remains to be seen.