President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee spent funds on hotel rooms and meals at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC and also rented space there at rates negotiated partly by Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, WNYC and ProPublica reported Friday.
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating the committee for possible financial abuses related to the more than $100 million in donations it raised, people familiar with the matter have told CNN.
Inauguration organizers held events at the Trump International, then newly opened in a federally owned property just blocks from the White House.
The hotel, a favorite hangout for Trump administration officials and associates, has lately been the focus of renewed scrutiny.
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have subpoenaed the Trump organization and related entities for tax and business records relating to the hotel’s business as part of a suit claiming that Trump, who has retained his interest in the Trump Organization, is in violation of a constitutional ban on the President receiving payments from foreign or domestic governments.
The Trump administration filed an appeal in federal court Friday to block those subpoenas.
The Washington Post has reported that a Saudi-backed veterans’ group booked nearly 500 nights at the hotel in the months after Trump’s inauguration.
Inaugural committee organizers complained to Ivanka Trump that the hotel was attempting to charge $175,000 per day for use of a ballroom and other meeting rooms, according to internal communications.
Committee leader Stephanie Winston Wolkoff emailed Ivanka Trump, then still an executive with the Trump Organization, to argue that the maximum rate should have been $85,000 a day, noting that events were for Trump – referred to as “PE,” or President-elect.
“These are events in PE’s honor at his hotel and one of them is with and for family and close friends,” Wolkoff wrote in an email published by WNYC.
Emails obtained by WNYC and ProPublica include a message in which then-deputy inaugural chairman Rick Gates thanks Ivanka Trump for her help negotiating rates.
It’s not clear how much the inauguration committee ultimately paid.
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, told WNYC that she delegated the negotiations with the inaugural committee to “a hotel official” and directed they be conducted at a “fair market rate.”
A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment from CNN.
An inaugural committee spokeswoman told WNYC that the group “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.”
Tom Barrack, a real estate developer who ran the inaugural committee, denied there was a new investigation into the matter in a statement to CNN.
“Information about questions asked about in 2017 does not mean that there is a ‘new investigation.’ What it means is that the Special Counsel’s staff was both professional and comprehensive back in 2017 when I sat for a voluntary interview,” Barrack said.
“They have shown themselves to be pretty tenacious when they find something they judge worth pursuing,” he said. “I asked my counsel to check with Special Counsel Mueller’s staff this week and ask if they had any new or additional questions – the answer was no, and he was told I am not under investigation.”
Barrack had not yet spoken with investigators since the interview he had with the special counsel last year, CNN reported this week, citing a source familiar with the matter. During his conversation with Mueller, the inaugural fund was raised only briefly, the source said.
One person familiar with the matter told CNN that the investigation into the inaugural committee is in the early stages, with investigators generally focused on whether any inauguration money was misspent.
The investigation was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times also reported Thursday night that federal prosecutors are looking into whether people from foreign countries – specifically Middle Eastern countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – funneled potentially illegal donations via surrogate donors to both the inaugural fund and a pro-Trump super PAC in efforts to buy “influence over American policy.”
CNN’s Gloria Borger and Devan Cole contributed to this report.