President Donald Trump's inaugural fund spent lavishly at his DC hotel, new docs show

Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at his DC hotel.

January 15, 2019, 3:58 AM

President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at the Trump International Hotel in Washington ahead of his 2017 swearing-in, according to internal documents reviewed by ABC News.

It is part of an array of expenditures there and elsewhere that included more than $130,000 for customized seat cushions at two gala dinners for the president-elect, $10,000 to provide makeup to the servers at another formal dinner, and $2.7 million to a company that produced a Broadway-style rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” using Las Vegas show girls flown in by Trump pal Steve Wynn for a private event.

Compared to past inaugurations, the festivities surrounding Trump’s swearing-in were modest in scale – the non-profit group established to oversee the celebration hosted only three major events. But the amount of money involved was record-breaking – with more than $107 million raised and $104 million spent, double the amounts of President Barack Obama’s first inaugural.

"These inaugural committees if there’s not good transparency and disclosure, can turn into slush funds,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, who has served on the House Oversight Committee. “That’s why you need to have requirements that they disclose what the spending is, where it’s coming from, put some limits on the kind of spending that’s appropriate, so that it’s really going towards inaugural needs, and not other purposes."

Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Melania Trump looks on during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

House Oversight Committee member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who has previously served on the committee, said he expects Democrats to look into the way the money was both raised and spent. "It’s all the more reason why there has to be sunshine on both ends -- who is actually donating to the committees and how this spending is going to be done," Krishnamoorthi told ABC News.

Trump's inauguration committee was led by the president’s longtime friend Thomas Barrack. He was not paid as part of his role overseeing the inaugural festivities. ABC News reached out to a spokesman for Barrack.

Already there had been questions about how that money was spent. Tax filings disclosed the five largest vendors included payments of nearly $26 million to an event planning firm run by a one-time adviser and close friend of Melania Trump.

The adviser, Stephanie Winston-Wolkoff, created a company called WIS Media Partners based in California that handled some of the festivities. That firm paid out contracts to other sub-contractors that were hired and used some of the funds to hire sub-contractors. Winston-Wolkoff was also paid $1.62 million directly for her work, ABC News has previously reported. ABC News has left messages for Winston-Wolkoff’s attorney.

Internal financial documents reviewed by ABC News on Monday show spending that was not required to be included on public tax filings. Those records outline in granular detail how money was, in some instances, directed to pay Trump’s political advisers. That included nearly $2.7 million to the company of Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who handled digital operations for the inaugural. A separate company, Fortalice Solutions LLC, which specializes in cyber protection, was paid $450,000.

The inaugural committee shelled out $130,000 to Tiffany & Company, which a source confirmed was to provide guests with salad bowls.

The documents also show sizeable amounts spent on the travel and feeding of dozens of friends and aides in the days leading up to the inauguration. According to the filings, for example, the committee paid $25,000 to reimburse hotel expenses for longtime Trump pal, real estate executive Howard Lorber. A breakdown of Melania Trump’s friend, Winston-Wolkoff’s company expenses shows thousands of dollars spent on dining, lodging and travel including $24 in Uber rides to “pick up exec meds,” and $13 to “drop off Jon’s laundry,” a reference to a Winston-Wolkoff aide. Her company’s expenditures also included a $12.72 Uber reimbursement for a ride ordered for Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, creator of “The Apprentice,” the show that launched Trump into reality TV stardom.

ABC News has reached out to Lorber and Burnett for comment.

President-elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 20, 2017, in Washington, for his inauguration.
Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP Photo

Many of Winston-Wolkoff’s employees stayed at the Trump International Hotel which was used as a prime meeting place during the festivities. But spending there had not previously been detailed. Among those expenses were numerous payments for food and beverages. For example, one couple working for Winston-Wolkoff billed the inauguration $1,835 in room service charges there over three days.

There are few hard and fast rules governing how inaugural funds may be spent. The committee that raises and spends it is a tax exempt group that must comply with IRS rules, according to Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington. Where the Trump inaugural spending could raise red flags, he said, is if the fund was being operated for the private benefit of any individual.

“Substantial spending by the inaugural committee at the Trump Hotel would raise issues of impermissible self-dealing by the committee,” Kappel said.

Kappel said the IRS would want to know, for instance, if the inaugural committee paid fair market value for the goods and services it purchased from the hotel. The committee spent more than $1 million each at two other hotels, the Willard Hotel and the Fairmont Hotel, the records show.

Broadly speaking, spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington has already been a focus of ethics groups and Democrats in congress. Even without the new figures showing the Trump Inaugural spending, other records have shown various Republican-affiliated campaigns and groups as well as U.S. and foreign governments spent nearly $2 million at the hotel since Trump took office.

That has included more than $509,000 from the Republican National Committee, more than $137,000 from Trump's campaign and joint fundraising committees, according to FEC filings.

House Democrats introduced a bill last year that would require the administration to publicly disclose every time Trump or other federal officials spend taxpayer money at Trump-owned hotels and golf courses.

"The immense honor and responsibility of serving as president of the United States should never be exploited for profit, and this president, like no president before him, has made an art of making money off the federal government," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who was a sponsor, said at the time.

The doling out of funds by the inaugural group has seen less scrutiny, in part because so little was publicly known about where the money went. When the inaugural organization filed its tax papers, scrutiny focused on Winston-Wolkoff, who served as a member of the first lady’s staff.

“Mrs. Trump had no involvement with the PIC, and had no knowledge of how funds were spent,” the first lady’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham, told ABC News in a statement at the time.

Earlier published filings showed other top vendors included a ticketing agency tasked with creating all the tickets and invitations for the festivities that was just shy of $4 million and another nearly $4 million payment to David Monn an event planner based in New York. A source with direct knowledge said Monn was recommended to the committee by Winston-Wolkoff but was paid directly, not as part of her much larger payment.

The tax filing showed that the committee spent $104 million of the $107 million it raised. By way of comparison, for the 2009 inauguration, then-president elect Barack Obama’s team raised roughly $53.2 million and reported spending about $51 million.

The Trump Inauguration also donated $5 million to various charities including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Smithsonian Institute among others.

ABC News reporter Soorin Kim contributed to this report.

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