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Prosecutors Examine The Finances Of Trump Administration Inaugural Campaign


President Trump's Inaugural Committee raised and spent more than a hundred million dollars, a record-breaking sum of money, for several days of events surrounding the swearing in. New reporting from WNYC and ProPublica shows the committee spent some of that money at Trump's own hotel here in Washington, D.C. Think ballrooms, workspaces, hotel rooms. What's more, reporters found that the president's daughter Ivanka Trump was involved in conversations about pricing.

Joining me now is WNYC's Ilya Marritz. He's co-host of the Trump, Inc. podcast about the Trump family business. Welcome to the program.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: So you have been reporting about new details about how the Trump Inaugural Committee spent some of its money. What have you learned?

MARRITZ: So maybe the - I should offer a little context first. The Inaugural Committee every four years is a nonprofit organization, and what its responsible for are all the balls and the concerts and the parties, everything that is not the swearing-in ceremony itself when a president takes office. The reason people are interested in President Donald Trump's inauguration is that his team raised nearly $107 million for those parties. Now, just for a yardstick, the next biggest inauguration was Barack Obama's in 2009. It took in $55 million.

So this is an absolutely enormous haul of money, and all year, I've been looking for answers about where that money went. And I have found part of the answer in some emails. So we got to look at emails between Ivanka Trump and some key inaugural planners and also the managing director of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. These emails are from December 2016 shortly before the inauguration.

We don't know the final sum that was paid to the Trump Hotel by this nonprofit Inaugural Committee, but the emails discuss a sum of $700,000 over a four-day period. And what's really interesting here is one of the planners on this thread replied - Ivanka Trump was CC'd, and she replied basically saying - and I paraphrase - that's a lot of money, $700,000; I suggest half of that rate. And here's a quote. "These events are in the president-elect's honor at his hotel." And she goes on to say, please take into consideration that when this is audited, it will become public knowledge.

CORNISH: So finding there concern about appearances, but was there anything actually illegal?

MARRITZ: Well, so the IRS has rules that cover nonprofit spending. And basically if you're a person who has special influence over a nonprofit group, you can't do a business deal with that group where you charge above market rates. So in this case, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump probably could qualify as people with special influence. Donald Trump, after all, handpicked the people who ran his inauguration.

We talked to a nonprofit tax expert who said the Trump - if the Trump International Hotel was overcharging for the rental, then the IRS can indeed impose steep fines. We don't have any evidence it happened here. We don't know that it happened here. But obviously there are some ethical issues. Just at the moment Donald Trump is about to ascend to the presidency, his company is profiting from the party that's supposed to celebrate the occasion. It's just totally new territory.

CORNISH: All right, so how is the White House and the Trump Organization responding to this?

MARRITZ: The White House did not comment, and neither did the Trump Organization. We did hear back from the spokesman for Ivanka Trump's ethics adviser. He told us, quote, "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, quote, 'fair market rate.' Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussion," end quote. He didn't provide email or any other kind of evidence that she asked for that fair market rate. And so far, no one from the Trump family or the company is saying how much the inauguration paid to their D.C. hotel.

CORNISH: Ilya Marritz, co-host of the Trump, Inc. podcast from member station WNYC, thank you.

MARRITZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ilya Marritz