The Weekly | Trump’s Inauguration: The Money Behind the Most Expensive U.S. Presidential Debut

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.

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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.

  • 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.


Director of Photography Andreas Burgess
Video Editor Marlon Singleton
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, Liz Day
Associate Producer Brennan Cusack

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