Episode 5: ‘Inauguration, Inc.’
Producer/Director John Pappas
Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration was the most expensive in the country’s history, with $107 million raised for black-tie parties and bespoke gifts. That’s more than double the previous record set by Barack Obama. Where did the money come from? Where did it all go? And why should we care now?
Some of the biggest controversies dogging the Trump administration — foreign influence, money, conflicts of interest — have their origins in inauguration weekend. As federal investigators look into the inaugural committee’s fund-raising, our reporters comb through the guest lists and add up the receipts.
Maggie Haberman is a White House correspondent who was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. She is a driving force behind much of the breaking news on the Trump administration. Follow her on Twitter: @maggieNYT.
Sharon LaFraniere is an investigative reporter who began writing for The Times in 2003 as an international correspondent in southern Africa. She was also part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. Follow her on Twitter: @SharonLNYT.
Mark Mazzetti is a Washington investigative correspondent who has covered national security for The Times for 10 years. He too was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. Follow him on Twitter: @MarkMazzettiNYT.
Matthew Rosenberg is a Washington investigative correspondent who was part of the team from 2018 that won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. He also helped expose how Cambridge Analytica, a firm with ties to the Trump campaign, harvested private information from tens of millions of Facebook users. Follow him on Twitter: @AllMattNYT.
Ken Vogel covers the confluence of money, politics and influence as a reporter in The Times’s Washington bureau. He has covered politics and government at all levels, from small-town cop shops to statehouses, Congress and the presidential campaign trail. Follow him on Twitter: @kenvogel.
How did Trump’s inaugural committee spend $107 million? There was $10,000 for cosmetics for 20 aides, $30,000 in per diem payments to dozens of staff members and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of party decorations. The Times’s reporting shows that the committee spent heavily on even the smallest details of the inauguration.
Not everyone got what they thought they were paying for: Pavel Fuks, a Ukrainian-Russian developer, filed a lawsuit saying he was bilked out of the $200,000 he paid for what he thought would be V.I.P. tickets to the inauguration. He said in the lawsuit that he had paid the money to a firm at the direction of Yuri Vanetik, a prominent Republican fund-raiser and sometime lobbyist. Fuks, who spoke with Ken for this episode of “The Weekly,” once talked to Trump about doing a Moscow real estate project.
As our reporters have been looking into the Trump team’s activities, federal and state authorities have also been investigating the inaugural committee’s fund-raising. Read the full coverage here.
Where Are They Now?
Elliott Broidy resigned as deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee in 2018 after it was reported that he agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant from an affair. He sued the government of Qatar, accusing them of hacking the emails that were leaked to The Times. A judge dismissed the claim, but Broidy is appealing. He’s also suing a lobbyist who worked for Qatar. The Justice Department continues to investigate Broidy’s business and political dealings.
Tom Barrack’s company, Colony Northstar, which changed its name last year to Colony Capital, has won more than $1 billion worth of investments from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since Trump won the Republican nomination. His status among the Gulf monarchies has only risen since the inauguration. Prosecutors in New York are looking into donations to the Trump inaugural committee, which was chaired by Barrack, and have been examining his ties to the Middle East.
Rick Gates pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators about his work with Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s campaign. Gates said in court that “it’s possible” he used money from the inaugural for his personal expenses. His sentencing has been delayed several times as he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors looking into matters related to the special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff served as an advisor to Melania Trump until they parted ways in 2018. She has been cooperating since last fall with federal prosecutors in Manhattan who are investigating the inaugural committee’s finances.
Pavel Fuks recently filed a lawsuit against Yuri Vanetik to get his $200,000 back.
Director of Photography Andreas Burgess
Video Editor Marlon Singleton
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, Liz Day
Associate Producer Brennan Cusack