Donald Trump is being sued by – wait for it – Washington DC.
Actually, that’s not precisely accurate. Technically, The District of Columbia is suing Trump’s inaugural committee and also entities that control the Trump International Hotel. They’re collectively accused by attorney general Karl Racine of “blatantly and unlawfully abusing nonprofit funds to enrich the Trump family”.
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Trump’s “charity” (scare quotes are there for a reason) was dissolved during his tenure in the Oval Office for being little more than a personal checkbook – allegedly. The abuse of nonprofit funds is just par for Bedminster.
The details of the new suit are highly amusing, albeit wholly unsurprising.
Racine asserts that the inaugural committee conspired with hotel management and members of Trump’s family to pay prices for events that were “grossly above market rate” without considering alternative arrangements that would have saved vast sums of money.
“District law requires nonprofits to use their funds for their stated public purpose, not to benefit private individuals or companies”, Racine declared. “In this case, we are seeking to recover the nonprofit funds that were improperly funneled directly to the Trump family business”.
Although the committee’s express purpose was to organize inauguration events, Racine says it “abandoned this purpose and violated District law when it wasted approximately $1 million of charitable funds in overpayment for the use of event space at the Trump hotel”. Just read this bit from the suit:
On December 2, 2016, the PIC advised employees at the Trump Hotel that it was considering holding official events there on January 19 and January 20, 2017 and asked for pricing proposals. On December 10, 2016, the Trump Hotel emailed the PIC an initial quote of $3.6 million for use of all event space at the hotel for eight days, with this price including event space rental and minimum food and beverage charges. This amounted to $450,000 per day for the space.
If you’re wondering whether those figures are anywhere in the same universe as what you’d pay at comparable luxury hotels for similar events, the answer, by every account we’ve read on Wednesday anyway, is “absolutely not”. In fact, those numbers are not even consistent with Trump Hotel’s own pricing! Again, from the suit:
This quote was significantly more than the Trump Hotel’s internal pricing guidelines for use of this event space.
Who was involved in this, you ask? Why, the usual suspects, of course. At one point, Paul Manafort understudy Rick Gates (who was finally sentenced last month) told Ivanka he was “a bit worried about the optics” surrounding the exorbitant fees the committee was paying. Also concerned was Melania’s former adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who discussed the costs with Ivanka and Gates. “When this is audited it will become public knowledge”, Wolkoff warned.
Apparently, the committee could have easily held events elsewhere for free, but decided to pay Trump instead. (We know, it’s laughably flagrant). The details are ridiculous. Here’s AP to summarize:
The suit contends that the hotel went against industry practice and refused to discount the space, and double-booked its largest ballroom with a different organization that was still affiliated with the inauguration, the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. Both organizations were nonprofits, but the breakfast paid $5,000 for the ballroom. The committee, however, paid $175,000, the suit claims.
Prosecutors say the committee also used nonprofit funds to throw a private party on Jan. 17, 2017, the night off the inauguration, for Trump’s family – a $300,000 affair. The reception was for three of Trump’s children – Donald, Jr., Ivanka and Eric.
This is hardly the only investigation into the inaugural committee, which has also come under scrutiny from authorities in New York and New Jersey for possible improprieties related to foreign contributions, among other things.
The Trump Organization claims this is all nonsense. “The rates charged by the hotel were completely in line with what anyone else would have been charged for an unprecedented event of this enormous magnitude and were reflective of the fact that hotel had just recently opened, possessed superior facilities and was centrally located on Pennsylvania Avenue”, the company said, in a statement.
Racine isn’t so sure. One more time, from the suit:
The Prayer Breakfast paid only $5,000 to rent the Presidential Ballroom, the largest event space in the Trump Hotel, on the morning of the Inauguration. In contrast, the PIC paid $175,000 for the use of the Presidential Ballroom in the afternoon. The PIC thus paid 35 times more for rental of event space on Inauguration Day at the Trump Hotel than a comparable nonprofit organization paid for renting a substantial portion of the same event space earlier that day. And while the Trump Hotel charged the PIC a rate that was well in excess of the Trump Hotel’s own pricing guidelines, the Prayer Breakfast was offered the same space at a 50% discount from those same pricing guidelines.
In other words, this is graft – plain and simple. And it underscores the sheer, blatant absurdity in Trump’s pretensions to “draining” any “swamps”. He’s been bilking the presidency for every penny it’s worth from inauguration month onwards.