President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee is now under investigation, and that could affect the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
The story has been bubbling under the surface since Trump took office in January 2017. His inaugural committee raised a staggering $107 million, more than double the previous record set by President Barack Obama in 2009. Nevertheless, the actual event was marked by low attendance and a slew of B-list entertainers. So, what gives?
As in all things Trump, follow the money.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is investigating whether the committee’s donors gave money in exchange for favorable treatment on policymaking or special access to the incoming administration.
The next day, WYNC and ProPublica delivered more reporting on the issue, noting that the Trump family was one of the beneficiaries of inaugural committee spending, and Ivanka Trump—then a senior executive at the Trump Organization—was involved in negotiating venue rental pricing at the family’s hotel in Washington, DC.
Emails show that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff—an ex-adviser to Melania Trump who ran the event’s top-paid vendor—expressed concern to Ivanka Trump and the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman Rick Gates (yes, that Rick Gates) that Trump’s DC hotel was overbilling the committee for its services.
“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends. Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge,” Wolkoff wrote in a December 2016 email published by WYNC and ProPublica.
Per the report:
Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.
It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
Wolkoff suggested a day rate of $85,000 instead.
Here’s the issue: If the Trump Organization charged the committee above-market rates, that could be a tax-law violation, a former IRS official told WYNC and ProPublica.
It also adds to ongoing questions of emoluments violations against Trump, who currently faces a lawsuit in DC and Maryland over the Trump International Hotel.
All of this is in addition to possible corruption charges if prosecutors determine that donations to the inaugural committee were given in exchange for political favors, as the Journal noted.
“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” Marcus Owens, who led the IRS’ division overseeing nonprofit organizations, told WYNC and ProPublica.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, this is now the sixth area of investigation into the Trump orbit. These include the Trump Organization, the presidential campaign, the president-elect’s transition team, the inaugural committee, the current White House, and the Trump family foundation.
A spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer said, “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.”