The Insidious Inauguration Committee

In previous posts about President Cheeto Fascist, I have talked about how he manages to make almost any kind of charity or fundraising into a moneymaking scheme. And I talked about how he’s much more inclined to listen to donors willing to buy access to him through staying at his resorts and joining his clubs. Anyway, on Thursday, December 13, 2018, prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced they were looking into Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, according to the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, investigators are interested in the committee’s spending and into the potential corruption involving favors for its donors. While the Journal reports that the criminal probe stems at least in part from material during the FBI’s April raid on Michael Cohen’s residence and office.

Even before this, multiple media outlets reported earlier in 2018 that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating potential Russia-tied donations to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. Yet, this news is the first confirmation of a broader probe into his inauguration and its money. After all, aside from working as Paul Manafort’s henchmen, Rick Gates also helped run it. Nonetheless, given Trump’s history involving making money off his campaign and presidency, this news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since there have long been glaring questions behind Trump’s inauguration and where it went. Because his inaugural committee raised a truly astonishing $106.7 million, doubling the previous record Barack Obama‘s 2009 inaugural set. But what they did with it remains unclear. Nonetheless, in a 2018 ProPublica and WNYC report, former chair of George W. Bush’s second inauguration, Greg Jenkins was dumbstruck. He told ProPublica, “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did. So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

After that truly unfortunate night in November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the 2016 presidential election, he was tasked with setting up an inauguration that would be worthy of his name and “opulent” reputation, which would be a gilded trash heap. Now the federal government pays for the swearing-in ceremony and logistics. But Trump would have to pay for all the before and after parties and events like the pre-inaugural National Mall concert, dinners and events for elite supporters, and the inaugural ball. So he needed a lot of money. Of course, raising money for one’s inauguration isn’t unusual for an incoming president. Rather than fund the festivities himself, the so-called wealthiest not-my-president-elect ever, Trump decided to follow suit raising the cash from billionaires, wealthy financiers, and corporations.

So a week after his horrifying electoral victory, Donald Trump named a murderers’ row of superrich Republicans as “finance vice chairs” for the event. These included:

  • Sheldon Adelson– casino billionaire known for donating to Republican causes and had his wife receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that she didn’t seem to deserve.
  • Steve Wynn– casino billionaire Donald Trump might’ve screwed over in Atlantic City who was later accused of sexually abusing his employees.
  • Elliot Broidy– a defense contractor and well-known Republican fundraiser who was later involved in hush money payments to a Playboy model and a client to Michael Cohen. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to paying bribes to get investments from the New York state pension fund. His felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor. He’s also come under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
  • Anthony Scaramucci– some corporate guy who was Donald Trump’s communications director for 10 days during the summer of 2017 and had to resign over an obscene interview with the New Yorker.

The committee’s treasurer Doug Ammerman was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a tax shelter fraud during the early 2000s. He was also a partner at accounting firm, KPMG, which later admitted to criminal liability. A Senate investigation at the time include emails from Ammerman suggesting he was aware of the scheme. In addition, he’s currently accused in a shareholder lawsuit of dumping stock in a grilled chicken chain, El Pollo Loco, where he served on the board, ahead of a bad quarterly report.

The chair of the inaugural committee in charge of it all was Tom Barrack, a real estate billionaire investor and close friend of Donald Trump for 4 decades. Anyway, Barrack’s business interests have recently been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. According to him, his goal was for the inauguration to have a “soft sensuality” and “poetic cadence.” Though I would more or less the event as akin to something between The Hunger Games and Titanic. To assist with planning and fundraising, Barrack turned to Manafort right-hand man, Rick Gates. After all, Barrack had known Paul Manafort since the 1970s and helped convince Trump to bring him on to the campaign. But to no one’s surprise, the choice raised eyebrows since Manafort had been ousted as Trump’s campaign chairman after the release of several scandal-laden stories about his work in for pro-Russian Ukranian politicians. And yet, Gates became instrumental in the committee’s activities as a possible “shadow” inauguration chair and Barrack’s “chief deputy.” As we know both Manafort and Gates have agreed to plea deals with Robert Mueller and promised to cooperate with government investigators. Gates kept his word. Manafort didn’t.

While Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd was nowhere near the largest in history, the inaugural fundraising certainly was. Tom Barrack, Rick Gates, and the team racked in more than $106 million, a jaw-dropping sum doubling the previous record set by Barack Obama’s team in 2009. However, the fundraising scheme went like this: the more you give, the more exclusive events you got access to. According to the Center for Public Integrity, listed perks with each donation target include:

  • $250,000 will get you a Union Station candlelight dinner with the Trumps and Pences.
  • $500,000 will get you a dinner with then Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
  • $1 million will get into the “Leadership Luncheon” at Donald Trump’s Washington DC Hotel.

OpenSecrets.org provided a donor list of those willing to fork over large sums. Among those include:

Finance Industry Big Shots (all donate $1 million each):

  • Robert Mercer– a rich eccentric billionaire who owns Brietbart and Cambridge Analytica that the New Yorker called “the reclusive hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump presidency.”
  • Paul Singer– another hedge-fund billionaire who funds the Washington Free Beacon website which had ironically paid the opposition firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Donald Trump during the primaries. Their efforts resulted in the infamous Steele Dossier which famously alleged the pee-pee tape situation. Wonder what inspired him to change his mind about the guy.
  • Steve Cohen– a man whose hedge fund group was closed down due to insider trading allegations.

Corporate America:

  • Contributed $2 million: AT&T
  • Contributed $1 million: Bank of America, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Pfizer, and Qualcomm
  • Contributed at least $500,000: JP Morgan Chase, FedEx, Chevron, Exxon, Fidelity, Citgo, and BP America.

Secret Conservative Groups (Donated $1 million each):

  • The American Action Network– a dark money nonprofit that’s spent tens of millions on elections since 2010.
  • “BH Group LLC” – a mysterious shell company whose true source remained unknown for more than a year. Only in 2018 did journalist Robert Maguire trace that contribution to a group tied to the conservative legal movement and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo who’s found a prominent role advising Donald Trump on judicial nominations.

But these are only samples all of the donors who contributed vast sums from their bottom lists of cash reserves so they can have input in shaping policy that benefits their bottom line. After all, they didn’t just hand over their cash for the inaugural festivities. Nonetheless, they’re not the only kinds of donors who forked over their cash to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee either. For we must not forget those donors with major ties to Russia and other foreign countries who reportedly caught Robert Mueller’s eye. ABC News reported that Mueller questioned “about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee” — specifically about “donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.” As far as the Associated Press is concerned, Mueller’s investigators have interviewed inauguration chair Tom Barrack. But the AP’s sources gave conflicting accounts on what they asked him about. One claimed they only asked him about Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Another claimed questioning included, “financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.” In June 2017, another ABC News report stated that Mueller investigators why several billionaires with “deep ties to Russia” got access to “exclusive, invitation-only receptions” during the inauguration.

Nevertheless, beyond the many questions about the money Donald Trump’s inauguration committee collected, there have long been many questions about money going out of it. Though I highly suspect that much of it went straight to the Trump Organization. In the ProPublica and WNYC piece, several people involved in previous inaugurations were stumped over how Trump’s team could have possibly spent more than $100 million for what they got. Unfortunately, unlike in political campaigns, the inaugural committee isn’t required to disclose very much about its spending. Yet, in its nonprofit tax form, the committee does have to break down its expenses in broad categories. But they need not explain every line item.

In any case, according to the tax form, about half the money (more than $50 million) went to just 2 vendors. $25.8 million went to WIS Media Partners, an event production firm started by a now-former adviser to Melania Trump. Another $25 million went to Hargrove, Inc. for “event production.” What did these firms do with these massive sums? God only knows. But that leaves about $50 million remaining. From that, another $10 million in total went to another 3 vendors, $4.6 million was paid out in salaries, and $5 million was left over and given out as grants. Yet, where tens of millions more went remains a mystery, beyond the broadest categories given on the disclosure forms. For now, whether this was sloppy financial mismanagement or something shadier is unclear. Though given Donald Trump’s propensity for moneymaking schemes, it’s more likely the latter. Not to mention, if there’s anyone who knows where the money went, it’s Rick Gates. And whatever he knows, prosecutors know, too.

But whatever the case, the fundraising involved with Donald Trump‘s inauguration should show us that this unrespectable man is no savior to his white working class supporters. In fact, he just sees them as suckers gullible enough to buy into his fraudulent promises he never intends to keep. He is a man who can be bought and usually is. He may appreciate his supporters’ votes and constant praise they bestow on him at his ego boosting rallies. But if they really want his ear, then they will have to accumulate more wealth than most will ever be able to make in their lifetimes. Maybe even get a membership at his exclusive clubs and resorts that can cost thousands of dollars. If not, then millions. Besides, Trump has a well known history of screwing his employees just to enrich his own coffers. And he’s currently getting rich from the presidency with our taxpayer dollars.

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