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RNC lawyer lays out plan to counter #nevertrump

John Ryder, Republican National Committee Counsel
Wilfredo Lee | AP
John Ryder, Republican National Committee Counsel

The Republican National Committee has privately laid out its first move to counter the #nevertrump movement.

The closed-door strategy session was held Tuesday in Cleveland, CNBC has learned.

RNC General Counsel John Ryder presented committee members with a "legal opinion" on why the delegates should be bound on the first ballot. RNC members told CNBC attendees erupted in applause after the presentation. Ryder told members his staff would be distributing the legal opinion this week.

Diana Orrock, RNC Nevada chairwoman and member of the convention rules committee, said Ryder told the meeting the requirement to keep delegates bound to the candidates they had promised to back will stand, as will rules for those designated as unbound delegates. For example, states like North Dakota where delegates are unbound will continue to be unbound, said Orrock. "These are the rules and they have always been the rules and they should be applied," she said.

The RNC did not respond to CNBC's request for a comment on the meeting.

According to the RNC delegate list obtained by CNBC, North Dakota's Curly Haugland, an RNC member and a member of the rules committee, invited several members of the Delegates Unbound super PAC to attend the RNC meetings. Included on his sponsored delegate list were Gary Emineth, who like Haugland is an unbound North Dakota delegate; former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey; and Regina Thompson, a Delegates Unbound co-founder and Colorado delegate and Sen. Ted Cruz supporter.

Humphrey said earlier this week that presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump needs to be dumped because "he is a sociopath ... and has a personality disorder that would make him unfit to be president."

"None of those individuals Curly sponsored are RNC members, said Orrock. "That was why they needed to be sponsored, because they would have never have been allowed in that meeting. By Curly sponsoring them, everyone in the room knows he is for delegate divide and dissension."

Haugland said he did so as "a courtesy ... for people who want to attend RNC meetings." He added that he also sponsored two members of the Trump campaign to recent RNC meetings.

Orrock said she hopes to receive the official legal opinion by Ryder's office before she attends the first conference rules committee meeting Wednesday. "His opinion was sound. We must obey by the rules," she said.

Kendal Unruh, who declares herself an unbound delegate and was a Cruz supporter, is a leader of the Delegates Unbound. She is expected to present the group's "vote your conscience" rule to the rules committee this week. Her proposal reminds delegates they are "unbound" and can vote for whomever they want either at the convention. That, of course, runs contrary to Ryder's position.

According to RNC rules, delegates have always been able to vote their conscience. Unruh has acknowledged the group knows this but she said it wants to prove a point — that the delegates don't want Trump. Delegates Unbound is made up of supporters of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Cruz. Humphrey said earlier if the "vote-your-conscience" rule is passed, Delegates Unbound will disband and then support their candidate.

"Any attempt by the establishment to bind delegates is irrelevant.," Unruh said. "Neither a rule by the RNC to bind or unbind determines whether or not the delegates can exercise their God- given right to vote their free will and conscience.

She said he's confident the minority report will pass onto the floor for the delegates to vote.

Humphrey has said he believes the rule will pass on the floor of the convention because Trump doesn't have the support.