When Trump’s inaugural team filed documents with the Federal Election Commission last year showing it managed to raise a record $107 million — nearly double the previous record set by President Barack Obama in 2009 — it prompted questions among critics and observers, mainly: Where did all that money go?
A new investigative report now suggests some of that money may have been funneled into the Trump Organization in coordination with the president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump.
According to interviews, internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica, the inaugural committee may have paid inflated fees to the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel.
If the Trump hotel did in fact overcharge the inauguration committee for its venues, it could constitute a violation of tax laws, the report said.
The article cites two people with direct knowledge, who said Rick Gates, the then-deputy chairman of the Inaugural Committee, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, instead of going through the committee. It’s not clear, the report said, whether any vendors took him up on his offer, though some vendors “felt the request was unusual.”
According to the report, Ivanka Trump, a senior executive with the Trump Organization at the time, was asked to help settle a dispute between the family-owned hotel and the Inaugural Committee, which thought the hotel was overcharging.
Emails reviewed by the news outlets showed that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt then responded with a different rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, with a $700,000 charge for four days of use.
Neither The White House nor the Trump Organization immediately responded to a request for comment Friday. But on Thursday evening, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters outside the White House that the recent federal criminal probe into the inauguration’s spending “doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady.”
“The biggest thing the president did, his engagement in the inauguration, was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The president was focused on the transition during that time and not on any of the planning for the inauguration,” Sanders said.
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson Ivanka Trump’s ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, told TheWrap in statement: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Inaugural Committee was under a federal criminal investigation for possible misuse of the some $107 million in spending.
In April, FBI agents raided Cohen’s office and hotel room looking for evidence in connection with a payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who said she had an sex with Trump in 2006.
During that raid, FBI agents found a recorded conversation between Cohen and inaugural planner Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who, according to the Journal, “expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money.”
Feds are looking at whether the donations were part of a “pay-for-play” scheme, to gain special access to the president.
In June of 2017, the Trump Inaugural Committee said it conducted a full audit of the festivities and found no wrongdoing. But so far has not provided any documents to back its claims.
Trump’s inaugural festivities were modest in comparison to Obama’s first inauguration, which cost less than half and featured some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and U2.
Obama drew 1.8 million people to the National Mall in 2009, according to estimates released by the District of Columbia. In contrast Trump’s inauguration attracted anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 people on the Mall, according to Vox. While Trump had only three inaugural galas — two official inaugural balls, as well as the Salute to Our Armed Services Ball — Obama had 10.
Almost two years later it’s still unclear how Trump’s team managed to spend the record amount of cash, especially considering that Trump’s festivities was low on star wattage, featuring performances by indie group 3 Doors Down and country singer Toby Kieth as its headliners.
While political action groups supporting particular candidates or issues are obligated to list their spending, inaugural committees are only required to account for its top five contractors, the report noted.