Special counselRobert Muellerâ€™s team has questioned several witnesses about millions of dollars in donations toÂ President Donald Trumpâ€™sÂ inaugurationÂ committee last year, including questions about donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates andÂ Qatar, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News.
Those interviewed included longtime Trump friend and confidant Thomas Barrack, who oversaw the fundraising effort, as well as individuals familiar with the massive inaugural fund, according to sources with direct knowledge. …
…Â The billionaire runs a fund with hundreds of millions in real estate and private equity holdings in the Middle East. Barrack oversaw the largest inaugural fundraising effort in U.S. history, bringing in $107 million â€“ more than double what President Barack Obama raised for his first swearing-in festivities.
According to a source who has sat with the Mueller team for interviews in recent weeks, the special counsel is examining donors who have either business or personal connections in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Several donors with those ties contributed large sums to the non-profit fundraising entity â€“ gifts that topped out at $1 million dollars, according to public records.
According to the FED, it’s illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to a presidential inauguration committee. If any of that money can be traced to foreign sources, it’s a problem.
However, there’s another problem with Trump’s inauguration fund, because it’s widely suspected a huge amount of it wasn’t really spent on the inauguration.
How big is the discrepancy between what was taken in and what was spent? I found this at Annenberg FactCheck.org:
Inauguration costs are divided up into two categories. In one category is all the fun stuff: the inaugural balls, luncheons and Springsteen appearances. Thatâ€™s also the category for things like theÂ 20 JumboTronsÂ placed around the National Mall and the special payment to keep the Smithsonian Institution open for the day. The fun events donâ€™t cost taxpayers a dime. Presidential inauguration committees raise money from private donors for all the fun stuff. A spokesperson for Obamaâ€™s inaugural committee told ABC News that the committee raised aboutÂ $45 millionÂ to cover the costs of events in the fun category. (A full accounting will eventually be filed with the FEC, probably in April.) Adjusting for inflation, Obamaâ€™s estimated total is about $41.4 million in 2005 dollars â€” or slightly less than the $42.3 million Bush raised for his second inauguration.
I found a more recent source that said Obama’s committee raised $53.2 million, although I’m not sure if that was for the first or second inauguration. There are other expenses related to the inauguration that taxpayers do pay for, and if you add it all together it can come up to $170 million or so. And of course you can find old articles in right-wing media complaining that Obama’s inauguration cost $170 million and Bush’s only $42.3 million, but they are confusing apples with apples, oranges and the rest of the farm. In fact, Bush’s and Obama’s inaugurations cost about the same, figuring for inflation. But right now, we’re only talking about the “fun stuff” paid for by the inauguration fund and not taxpayers.
So Trump’s inaurugation committee raised $107 million. In tax filings released this year, the Trump inauguration committee claimed to have spent $104 million on the “fun stuff.” But how? How was Trump’s inauguration twice as expensive as anyone else’s? Especially since the best Trump could do for a headliner was … Toby Keith?
I’m betting Trump’s committee spent no more than $50 million, if that. Money got shuffled around on paper to hide it somewhere. For example:
The company that received the biggest payment â€” $26 million â€” was WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, Calif. Records show that the firm wasÂ created in December 2016, about six weeks before the inauguration, and its founder, according to a person familiar with the firm, wasÂ Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime friend of Mrs. Trumpâ€™s. Otherwise there is very little information available about the company.
Another $25 million went to another even-production company in Maryland. There’s $51 million right there. The tax filings don’t tell us what these two event-production companies did with the money.
To add to the suspicion, at various times last year, the White House claimed all the money had been audited and the audit would be made publicly available by various dates that came and went. It seems to have taken someone a long time to cook the books properly.
At ProPublica,Â Ilya Marritz wrote in March,
In this weekâ€™s episode of â€œTrump, Inc.,â€ we dig into the inauguration. Weâ€™ve found that even experienced inaugural planners are baffled by the Trump committeeâ€™s massive fundraising and spending operation. We also noticed that two members of the inaugural committee have been convicted of financial crimes, and a third â€” the committeeâ€™s treasurer â€” was reportedly an unindicted co-conspirator in an accounting fraud.
Greg Jenkins led former President George W. Bushâ€™s second inaugural committee in 2005, which raised and spent $42 million (that would be $53 million in todayâ€™s dollars). Asked about how Trumpâ€™s team managed to spend so much more, Jenkins said, â€œItâ€™s inexplicable to me. I literally donâ€™t know.â€
â€œThey had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,â€ Jenkins said. â€œSo thereâ€™s the obvious question: Where did it go? I donâ€™t know.â€
Steve Kerrigan, who led both of former President Barack Obamaâ€™s inaugural committees, agreed. â€œThere was no need for that amount of money,â€ said Kerrigan. â€œWe literally did two inaugurations for less than the cost of that.â€
So, I’m not crazy for thinking that the $104 million claim makes no sense.
The committeeâ€™s treasurer, Doug Ammerman, was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a tax shelter fraud in the early 2000s,Â accordingÂ to The Wall Street Journal. Ammerman was a partner at the accounting firm KPMG, which laterÂ admittedÂ criminal liability. A SenateÂ investigationÂ from the time includes emails from Ammerman suggesting he was aware of the scheme.
Ammerman is also currently accused in a shareholder lawsuit of dumping stock in a grilled chicken chain, El Pollo Loco, where he was on the board, ahead of a bad quarterly report. Ammerman did not respond to requests for comment.
The finance vice-chair for the inaugural committee, Elliott Broidy,Â pleaded guiltyin 2009 to paying bribes to get investments from the New York state pension fund. His felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor. Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, has also comeÂ under scrutinyÂ in special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s investigation. Broidy did not respond to requests for comment.
Another inaugural organizer was Rick Gates, the former deputy to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.Â Gates pleaded guiltyÂ this year to lying to the FBI and to conspiracy in a vast money laundering scheme, charges that came from Muellerâ€™s office.
At the time that Gates worked on the inauguration, he had not been indicted, but his dealings with former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych had already come under scrutiny. Gatesâ€™ business partner, Manafort, was forced off of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 after it was reported he got nearly $13 million of undisclosed payments from Yanukovych. Gates did not respond to requests for comment.
And then there’s this:
We found one more thing that set this inauguration apart: Some of the donations are almost impossible to trace. As the Center for Responsive PoliticsÂ reports, two â€œdark moneyâ€ groups, which do not disclose their donors, gave $1 million each. Trumpâ€™s inaugural committee appears to have been the first to accept significant donations from dark money groups.
So, I’m saying that at least $50 million raised by the inauguration committee was not spent on the inauguration and probably is sitting around in a slush fund somewhere, if it hasn’t already gone into a lot of pockets belonging to the Trump family and their various enablers-in-crime.