Last week federal prosecutors in New York requested a whole lot of documents related to the Trump inauguration, donation and spending. The two major issues apparently under investigation were, (1) where the bleep did all that money go; and (2) did any of those donations come from foreign sources, which would have been in violation of law?
There has been much clucking about how the bleep the Trumps spent twice as much money as previous presidents on half as much inauguration. For all the money spent — $107 million — here were only three official balls instead of the usual ten or so, and the entertainment was barely worthy of a senior class reunion. Paul Waldman:
It may be some time before we know the full story of what happened in the inaugural, but this appears to be the outline. The inaugural was run by some people of questionable character, who raised an unprecedented amount of money. The spending of that money was certainly wasteful and perhaps even fraudulent; a friend of Melania Trump set up an event-planning company just before the inauguration and was paid $26 million, Trump’s campaign manager billed $2 million for getting a crowd to show up, and another event planner spent $10,000 on makeup for 20 staff members attending a party.
Like much of what Trump is involved in, the whole thing was ad hoc, haphazard, and without much in the way of care or oversight, offering numerous ways for the unscrupulous to fill their pockets. But it has also been shrouded in mystery, since inaugurals aren’t subject to the same disclosure requirements as most government functions.
Along with the makeup, it was Reported last month that “There was another $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of contract staff members, in addition to their fully covered hotel rooms, room service orders, plane tickets and taxi rides, including some to drop off laundry.”
I did some checking; yes, a top-of-the-line professional makeup artist might charge $500 per person for an extra special event, although there are very good ones who work for a lot less. But I have a hard time believing Trump was that generous to contract staff members, unless they were purely political hires. This is the guy who built and ran his golf clubs with illegal labor. Like this —
The brightly painted homes that line the road in Santa Teresa de Cajon, many paid for by wages earned 4,000 miles away, are the fruits of a long-running pipeline of illegal workers to the president’s course, one that carried far more than a few unauthorized employees who slipped through the cracks.
Soon after Trump broke ground at Bedminster in 2002 with a golden shovel, this village emerged as a wellspring of low-paid labor for the private club, which charges tens of thousands of dollars to join. Over the years, dozens of workers from Costa Rica went north to fill jobs as groundskeepers, housekeepers and dishwashers at Bedminster, former employees said. The club hired others from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala who spoke to The Post. Many ended up in the blue-collar borough of Bound Brook, New Jersey, piling into vans before dawn to head to the course each morning.
Not that they would have risked getting caught hiring illegal help for the inauguration, but I still can’t see them being that generous to the hired help doing flunky jobs. I’m saying there was a whole lot o’ padding in those expense records.
Now that federal investigators finally are looking into Trump’s inauguration expenses, my first question is, How much of this money ended up in the pockets of the Trumps? Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, wrote that Trump paid no attention to his own transition team until he found out the team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff.
The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?
Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.
Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition.
Christie and Bannon were able to calm Trump down. But the point is that Trump considered any money donated to the campaign to be his money. He was going to shut down the transition so he could pocket the donated money. How much of the money donated to the inauguration ended up being his money? We know that grotesque amounts of money were spent at the Washington Trump International Hotel, which jacked up its rates for the occasion. It has been widely reported that the hotel billed the inaugural committee $1.5 million. But $1.5 million is a drop in the bucket; people who have experience with inaugurations have said that even with the known cost overruns, it seems about $40 million simply evaporated.
Many articles about the inaguration fiasco point fingers at Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a close friend (back then) of Melania Trump who received $26 million to do event production. Her work on the inauguration was done through a company set up just for the inauguration, which looked suspicious. But a new article at Vanity Fair by Emily Jane Fox makes Wolkoff out to be an experienced and competent professional event planner who was thrown under the bus by the Trumps when criticism started to roll in about the money and the spending. According to Wolkoff, she was raising alarms about the way money was being spent and warned the Trumps that things were going on that would not look good to auditors. She says she complained about the prices at Trump’s hotel being jacked up and that Paul Gates and Tom Barrack, who were doing parallel event planning, were burning through money in unaccountable ways. At one point, she claimed, Gates wanted a vendor to be paid directly by a donor, not through the inauguration committee, so they could keep the transaction off the books.
Long-time Trump friend Tom Barrack, a private equity real estate guy, was chair of the inaugural committee. Barrack used the traditional chairperson’s dinner to talk up invitees described as “foreign ministers” for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. These ministers have not been named. Barrack is believed to have used the occasion to promote a business deal with them.
Let us not forget that in his recent un-blackmail post, Jeff Bezos mentioned connections among the National Enquirer, the Saudi government, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and Trump. Hmmm.