TRUMP INAUGURAL INVESTIGATION

WNYC and ProPublica have teamed up for a look inside the president’s inaugural committee. We have the details of their findings.

Read the full article, here.

Aired on February 20, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

FEDERAL PROSECUTORS IN NEW YORK CITY ARE LOOKING INTO THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE AS PART OF THE WIDE RANGING INVESTIGATION.

POSSIBLE ILLEGAL CONTRIBUTIONS AND CASH FOR ACCESS SCHEMES.

AND NOW WNYC AND PROPUBLICA HAVE FOUND EVIDENCE OF POSSIBLE TAX LAW VIOLATIONS BY THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE.

JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THE EVIDENCE AND ABOUT THE BROADER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION IS ILYA MARRITZ, A REPORTER FOR WNYC.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST THE TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE?

WHAT HAVE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS DISCOVERED AND WHAT HAS YOUR INVESTIGATION DISCOVERED?

SO FIRST, MAYBE A LITTLE BIT OF CONTEXT.

INAUGURAL COMMITTEES ARE 501 C-4 NONPROFITS AND FOR YEARS EVERY TIME A NEW PRESIDENT COMES IN, THEY FORM AN INAUGURAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE'S JOB IS TO PAY FOR THE BALLS AND THE CONCERTS AND THE DINNERS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THE SWEARING-IN.

THE SWEARING-IN ITSELF IS PAID BY THE GOVERNMENT BUT THE OTHER STUFF IS PAID FOR BY PRIVATE DONATIONS.

SO DONALD TRUMP'S INAUGURAL COMMITTEE WAS NOTEWORTHY IN A FEW KEY WAYS.

THEY RAISED TWICE AS MUCH MONEY AS THE NEXT MOST EXPENSIVE INAUGURATION.

THEY DIDN'T SET LIMITS ON WHO COULD GIVE OR HOW MUCH THEY COULD GIVE.

A SUBPOENA HAS BEEN ISSUED AND THEY'RE LOOKING FOR CASH FOR ACCESS SCHEMES.

THEY WANT TO KNOW WHERE IF THE MONEY CAME FROM.

WHERE IT WENT.

THEY SUSPECT THERE COULD HAVE BEEN STRAW DONORS.

NONAMERICANS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GIVE BUT WE KNOW OF AT LEAST ONE INSTANCE THAT A UKRAINIAN PERSON DID GIVE MONEY TO THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE.

IN ADDITION TO THAT, THERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS SWIRLING AROUND ABOUT HOW THEY MADE DECISIONS.

IT WAS THE FACT THAT THEY MADE SUCH MONEY AND THOSE ARE LIKE RED FLAGS FOR THE PROSECUTORS AND FOR YOU?

SURE.

ONE OF THE KEY FIGURES IN THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE WAS RICK GATES.

HE GOT SNAGGED IN ROBERT MUELLER'S PROBE AND HE PLEADED GUILTY TO CONSPIRACY AND IS COOPERATING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT.

THAT WAS ANOTHER RED FLAG.

MANAFORT'S ASSISTANT?

THAT'S RIGHT.

HE WORKED CLOSELY WITH PAUL MANAFORT FOR YEARS IN UKRAINE.

WHEN JUSTIN ELLIOTT AND I LOOKED INTO THE INAUGURATIONAL COMMITTEE, WE TALKED TO PEOPLE AROUND THE INAUGURATION AND WE LEARNED FROM E-MAILS SHOWN TO US THAT THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE ACTUALLY BOOKED DONALD TRUMP'S HOTEL IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT'S NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE.

A PRESIDENT --

IT'S ODD TO BEGIN WITH.

MAKING MONEY FROM HIS OWN INAUGURAL COMMITTEE AND IT INCLUDES A WARNING THAT THE RATE THEY'RE BEING CHARGED LOOKS REALLY HIGH.

AND WHAT WE LEARNED IS THAT NONPROFITS LIKE THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STEER -- TO GIVE BUSINESS TO RELATED PARTIES AT ABOVE MARKET RATE.

OKAY.

LET'S GET INTO THAT, BUT FIRST OF ALL, YOU TALK ABOUT GATES.

HE'S INVOLVED IN THIS.

BUT WHO MAKES THE -- WHO MADE THE FINAL DECISIONS?

WHO WAS THE PERSON AT THE TOP OF THIS INAUGURAL COMMITTEE?

WELL, HIS NAME IS TOM BARRACK, A CALIFORNIA BUSINESS MAN, PRIVATE EQUITY EXECUTIVE.

HE SOLD THE PLAZA HOTEL TO DONALD TRUMP BACK IN 1988 SO THEY HAVE A LOT OF HISTORY TOGETHER.

HE'S A GOOD FRIEND.

HE'S VISITED THE WHITE HOUSE AND TALKED WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP MANY TIMES.

AFTER TRUMP WAS ELECTED HE ASKED TOM BARRACK TO SPEARHEAD THIS PARTY AND SO TOM BARRACK AND HIS LAWYERS ARE NOW RESPONDING TO THE SUBPOENA.

ALL RIGHT.

SO LET'S GET BACK TO WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.

THE MONEY THAT WAS PAID TO THE TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL IN WASHINGTON, D.C.?

THAT'S RIGHT.

THEY RENTED A SPACE AMONG MANY OTHER SPACES THEY RENTED A SPACE IN THIS HOTEL.

$175,000.

THAT EVENT'S PLANNER YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT IN THE E-MAIL SAID WAIT A MINUTE, THIS IS MORE THAN TWICE WHAT THE HIGH END OF THE GOING RATE USUALLY IS.

SHE SAID THAT TO THEM.

THAT'S RIGHT.

SHE ALSO SAID AS YOU IMPLIED THIS IS ALL GOING TO BE PUBLIC, GUYS.

SO YOU GUYS -- THIS IS GOING TO BE TRANSPARENT.

EVERYBODY WILL SEE THIS.

SO DON'T MAKE ANY MISTAKES BUT THEY DID IT ANYWAY WHICH LEADS ME TO BELIEVE THERE'S A POSSIBILITY THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE JUST INCOMPETENT BOOBS RATHER THAN CRIMINALS.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?

THAT'S ONE WAY TO LOOK AT IT.

ANOTHER WAY IS THAT THE HOTEL HAD JUST OPENED, AN EXCITING SPACE.

MAYBE THEY FELT THEIR GUESTS, A LOT OF THEIR SUPPORTERS WOULD WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE HOTEL SO OFFER THEM THE CHANCE TO DO THAT.

OF COURSE THEY COULD GO AND HAVE COFFEE THERE ANYWAY.

THE MOST POSSIBLE CYNICAL VIEW IS THAT DONALD TRUMP AND WE HAVE SEEN THIS IN HIS HISTORY DOESN'T LIKE TO GET CUT OUT OF A DEAL.

HE WANTS TO GET CUT IN ON THE DEAL SO PERHAPS THEY JUST FELT THAT THEY HAD TO BOOK IT.

WE KNOW THAT THE COMMITTEE REALLY WANTED TO BOOK THIS SPACE AND WENT TO SOME LENGTHS TO GET THIS SPACE FOR FOUR SOLID DAYS AT A COST OF $700,000 TOTAL.

SO ANOTHER POSSIBILITY IS THAT THIS -- WHAT'S HIS NAME?

TOM BARRACK.

TOM BARRACK.

HE AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE WANTED TO INGRATIATE THEMSELVES TO THE INCOMING ADMINISTRATION?

ABSOLUTELY.

BARRACK IS A VERY UNUSUAL CHOICE FOR AN INAUGURAL CHAIR.

USUALLY THE PERSON WHO TAKES A JOB LIKE THAT IS AN EXPERIENCED WASHINGTON HAND.

SOMEBODY MUCH YOUNGER.

SOMEBODY WHO DOESN'T HAVE AS MUCH MONEY.

SOMEBODY WHO'S MAYBE ANGLING FOR A JOB IN THE WHITE HOUSE OR K STREET.

HE HAS THE WORLD.

HE HAS OFFICES ALL AROUND THE WORLD, ACCESS TO THE PRIVATE JET.

WE GOT INTERESTED IN THE QUESTION HE MIGHT HAVE TO GAIN FROM TAKING THREE MONTHS OUT OF HIS BUSY LIFE TO RUN THIS PARTY.

AND WE WERE SHOWN A MEMO -- A CONFIDENTIAL MEMO FROM HIS COMPANY COLONY CAPITAL IN FEBRUARY OF 2017.

SO RIGHT AFTER THE SWEARING-IN AND IT DESCRIBES A BUNCH OF WAYS THAT COLONY CAN BASICALLY PROFIT FROM ITS ACCESS AND CONNECTIONS.

YEAH.

WELL, AS YOU SAID, THE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS ARE ALSO LOOKING AT THE POSSIBILITY OF FOREIGN MONEY HAVING GOTTEN INTO THE COMMITTEE AND THEY DISCOVERED THAT SOME UKRAINIAN MONEY MIGHT HAVE GONE THROUGH A MIDDLE MAN?

THAT'S RIGHT.

BUT THAT'S NOTHING THAT HASN'T HAPPENED BEFORE.

I REMEMBER IN 2012 THAT SOME ALBANIAN MONEY GOT INTO THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION INAUGURAL COMMITTEE.

IT WASN'T THEIR FAULT.

THEY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT, THROUGH A MIDDLEMAN.

THIS IS NOTHING NECESSARILY A SMOKE GUN.

NO.

I MEAN, EVERY INAUGURAL COMMITTEE DESERVES A LOT OF DUE DILIGENCE, BECAUSE IT PRESENTS SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES OF SORT OF CASH FOR ACCESS PAY TO PLAY.

I'M SURE THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

I THINK WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS ONE IS IT'S MORE THAN TWO YEARS LATER AND WE'RE STILL TALKING ABOUT IT.

EARLIER COMMITTEES SEEM TO HAVE DONE THEIR BEST TO SWIFTLY DEAL WITH THESE KIND OF PROBLEMS.

THIS COMMITTEE I THINK BY SAYING WE'RE NOT GOING TO LIMIT THE SIZE OF DONATIONS OR WHO CAN GIVE, BY NOT PUTTING A LIMIT ON HOW MUCH THAT THEY WOULD RAISE I THINK SENT A SIGNAL.

SO QUICKLY, IF IT'S DISCOVERED -- IF IT'S DETERMINED ULTIMATELY THAT THE COMMITTEE HAS VIOLATED LAWS OR A SERIES OF LAWS WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT?

HEAVY FINES OR JAIL TERMS?

WELL, THE FIRST STEP WOULD BE A CIVIL VIOLATION ON THE TRUMP HOTEL THING.

BEYOND THAT A LOT OF THE CHARGES THAT THE PROSECUTORS ARE LOOKING AT ARE QUITE SERIOUSLY LIKE MONEY LAUNDERING.

THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE SAID IT'S COOPERATING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT.

THEY HAVE TOLD ME IN THE PAST THEY DON'T BELIEVE THEY DID ANYTHING WRONG.

THAT THEY DID VET THEIR DONORS AND THAT THEY MADE REAL EFFORTS TO ABIDE BY THE LAW.

BE THAT AS IT MAY, WITH THIS SUBPOENA IT'S PRETTY CLEAR THAT PROSECUTORS THINK THERE IS SOMETHING THERE.

SO IF THERE'S SOMETHING THERE AND THERE ARE CONVICTIONS, DOES IT NECESSARILY IMPLICATE OR AFFECT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION?

IT'S NOT A GOOD THING FOR THEM TO HAVE, YOU KNOW, IN ADDITION TO THE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION.

AND THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE.

ALL BEING UNDER SOME KIND OF INVESTIGATION.

HERE'S ONE MORE ENTITY CALLED TRUMP THAT IS NOW BEING INVESTIGATED.

ALL RIGHT.

VERY INTERESTING STUFF.

KEEP WRITING ON IT.

SURE.

WE'LL KEEP READING IT.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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