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Donald Trump and various entities he has controlled have been subject to a wide array of criminal investigations, some of them quite intricate and complex. That complexity has obscured what is quickly becoming a clear and simple conclusion: Trump used his inauguration to illegally line his own pockets.
The inauguration is under federal investigation, and the story has emerged in dribs and drabs. But enough pieces have come together that we know where the story is going. Let’s quickly review.
Last March, WNYC took note of the vast sums spent on Trump’s inauguration, which cost twice as much as the previously most expensive inaugural event, yet could not easily account for where all the extra money had gone. In December, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that federal investigators were looking into the inauguration.
At this point, the story appeared to revolve primarily around Trump cronies using the inauguration for enrichment or political influence. “Many of the president’s biggest campaign backers were involved in the inaugural fund,” the Journal noted. The probe also looked into whether the inaugural fund had accepted foreign money, which is prohibited.
But WNYC found in December that one possible source of overpayments included fees to Donald Trump’s Washington hotel. Emails by WNYC found the Trump Hotel manager proposing to charge the inauguration $175,000 a day for use of its ballroom and conference rooms, a rate the manager of the inauguration objected to as exorbitant.
Monday night, ABC News reported that investigators subpoenaed documents from the inauguration committee. Today ProPublica adds another key detail, confirming that the inauguration did pay the exorbitant $175,000 fee to the Trump Hotel. And it quotes tax law experts describing this as an obvious crime. “It could be a tax law violation,” Brett Kappel, an attorney at Akerman LLP who advises nonprofits, tells ProPublica.
Of course, fees to Trump’s hotel go straight into the pockets of Donald Trump and his family. So these apparent tax law violations — which amount to embezzling funds from the inaugural committee through self-dealing — were carried out for their personal benefit.
Another thing we know about Trump is that he takes a very close interest in his own money, and nothing infuriates him more than the idea that somebody is making money off of him. Chris Hayes told one story of Trump attempting to wring a commission out of a Tower Records store located in one of his buildings:
A more chronologically relevant account comes from Michael Lewis, who has reported about Trump’s lack of interest in planning for his presidential transition during the campaign. Trump could not let go of the idea that the money for the transition was somehow coming at his personal expense:
The first time Trump paid attention to any of this was when he read about it in the newspaper. The story revealed that Trump’s very own transition team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff. The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling: You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?
Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.
Did Donald Trump personally direct the apparently illegal scheme to divert inaugural funds to enrich the Trump Organization? That remains to be proven, but the odds would seem to be fairly high that he did.