Donald Trump’s inaugural committee is currently under criminal investigation by the Manhattan US attorney’s office for allegedly misspending a share of the US$ 107 million it had raised from donations for Trump’s inauguration.
Firstly, the prosecution is investigating whether some of the donors shelled out the money in exchange for access to the Trump administration. This includes donations illegally funneled through straw donors from individuals overseas with the intention to influence American policy. Source countries in focus are UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The ongoing investigation was triggered in part by some evidence seized during a raid on Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen (who now faces prison time).
The investigators gained access to a recorded conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump. In this conversation, Wolkoff was expressing his concern on how the inaugural committee money was being spent.
The committee is also facing charges that the money received was misspent, and allegedly channeled into Donald Trump’s own business.
After a review of interviews, emails and receipts, WNYC and ProPublica have revealed that the inaugural committee was billed by Trump Organisation for rooms, meals and event space at the Trump Hotel in Washington.
One of the emails suggests that the President’s eldest daughter Ivanka Trump (then an executive with the Trump organization) was negotiating the price for the venue. The committee organizers have complained in the mail that the hotel was trying to charge US$ 175,000 per day while it should be US$ 85,000 at the most.
If the rates are determined to be higher than the going rate, it would possibly in violation of tax law (using ‘substantial influence’ to charge above-market rates) and attract a steep penalty. Moreover, it raises larger questions on ethics and transparency if Trump used his political position to benefit his business.
The inauguration of Trump was held in January 2017, and was reportedly twice as expensive as the Obama inauguration in 2009.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the committee has denied any knowledge of pending investigations or communication with any prosecutors.