My reporting on the inauguration was featured, along with that of my colleagues, in the most recent episode of The Times’s new TV show, “The Weekly.” The Times has covered nearly every aspect of the inauguration, from who donated, what they wanted from the Trump administration and what they got at the inauguration to who decided how to spend the money and what they spent it on. Along the way, we discovered donors trying to use the inauguration to drum up business and foreigners trying to use it to expand their influence — both of which have drawn the interest of state and federal prosecutors who have subpoenaed records from the inaugural committee.

Proof: https://twitter.com/kenvogel/status/1145505163127529472?s=21

EDIT: Thanks for all the great questions! This was fun. I'm signing off for now, but I'll try to check back in later if I can.

Comments: 443 • Responses: 17  • Date: 

noisebox87116 karma

if trump is re-elected, do you expect that the 2020 inauguration would be substantially different? or pretty much the same as 2016?

thenewyorktimes128 karma

Great question. Given what we know about Trump's career in business and politics, I don't think anyone would be surprised if he tried to go even bigger with a potential second inauguration.

thenewyorktimes80 karma

Hey, it’s Ken Vogel.

This is my first AMA, so please lmk if I’m totally screwing this up, or not satisfactorily answering your questions.

Let’s get started!

igabeup44 karma

as you did your research, was there anything you found particularly surprising?

thenewyorktimes167 karma

Another thing I found surprising was the record-shattering fund-raising by the inaugural committee. It brought in $107 million -- more than twice as much as the $53 million raised by the Barack Obama's inaugural committee in 2009, which had been the previous biggest inaugural fund-raising tally. Part of the reason for that, I think, is similar to the reason that so many people wanted to work for Trump's inaugural and transition committees -- many top individual and corporate donors had shied away from Trump during the campaign, and they saw donations to his inaugural committee as a way to make amends for that, or at least to try to get off on a good foot with the new administration.

lastaccountgotlocked44 karma

So how do you actually investigate this? There’s probably inauguration filing with the FEC, right, but then what? Call up everyone who received payment and ask what it got?

thenewyorktimes122 karma

There were a number of ways that we (at the NYT) and other journalists investigated the inauguration. Certainly we went through the FEC filings, listing donors to the inauguration, and tried to identify the actual sources behind some of the more mysterious donations. And then we also carefully reviewed the so-called form 990 (the IRS tax form) filed by the inaugural committee, which had some interesting information -- including showing that a company set up by an event planner named Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who happened to be close friends with Melania Trump, was paid $26 million. She said the overwhelming majority of that was passed through to vendors, but, nonetheless, after we revealed the $26 million in payments, Ms. Winston Wolkoff left her role as an unpaid advisor to the First Lady's office, as we reported here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/26/us/politics/melania-trump-inauguration-adviser.html. For The Weekly, we investigated even more deeply, poring over thousands of photos to identify attendees at VIP inaugural events, for which there were no public guest lists. In one case, we identified an Angolan official who was being courted by Elliott Broidy's defense intelligence company for a major contract.

lastaccountgotlocked12 karma

Thanks for the reply. I’ve always wanted to do investigative stuff, but work gets in the way, and you’re never taught how to do something like this. I guess it’s just keep asking questions right?

thenewyorktimes67 karma

There are a number of resources you can use to investigate on your own, including looking up campaign giving and spending via the FEC website (https://www.fec.gov/) or the IRS website (https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/political-organizations/political-organization-filing-and-disclosure); the lobbying disclosures available via the Senate Office of Public Records (https://soprweb.senate.gov/index.cfm?event=selectfields) or the Department of Justice's FARA page (https://efile.fara.gov/ords/f?p=1381:1:7687522312129:::::). The Center for Responsive Politics aggregates and analyzes a lot of these records (https://www.opensecrets.org/). And court filings can be a great resource, too.

anddowe28 karma

What laws have been potentially broken?

thenewyorktimes77 karma

Prosecutors are examining a number of legal questions around the inauguration, including whether foreign money went to the inaugural committee, which would be illegal. Already, one GOP lobbyist, Sam Patten, admitted that he used foreign money to buy tickets to the inauguration for a Ukrainian oligarch. The admission came as part of a guilty plea for failing to register as a foreign agent for a Russia-aligned Ukrainian political party. Like Gates, Patten also cooperated with prosecutors, and, while we don't know what he told them, presumably, it could be helpful in their efforts to examine whether additional foreign money went to the inaugural committee.

SAT072516 karma

he used foreign money to buy tickets to the inauguration for a Ukrainian oligarch

So can foreigners not attend presidential inaugurations? If you're a foreigner and want to attend, can you not use your money because it's foreign?

thenewyorktimes43 karma

Foreign nationals can attend the inauguration and even the inaugural balls hosted by the inaugural committee -- they just can't pay for tickets to events hosted by the inaugural committee, because that would constitute an illegal foreign donation to the inaugural committee.

So an American would have to buy the tickets with their own money and then give them to the foreign national.

Or foreign nationals could pay for tickets to some of the myriad unofficial events that take place on the sidelines of the inauguration, as long as they're not sponsored by political committees, which -- like the inaugural committee -- are barred from accepting foreign donations.

anotherdirtyword22 karma

Hi Ken, thanks so much for the work that you do! I watched this episode of The Weekly last night and I was so impressed with the reporting that I ended up watching the other four episodes as well! For all of those who enjoy The Weekly, I'd also recommend the NYT daily podcast "The Daily" hosted by Michael Barbaro, which releases a new episode each morning M-F.

My questions is: as far as this reporting topic goes, what's next? Is there anything else that needs to be looked into, or do you feel that the research is essentially completed?

thenewyorktimes25 karma

Thanks so much for watching "The Weekly," and listening to "The Daily."

We're researching a number of subjects related to the inauguration -- including how it was used for business development -- and federal prosecutors are also still investigating subjects related to the inauguration, so there will be more coming.

Stay tuned, and thanks again for your interest!

thenewyorktimes21 karma

Thanks for all the great questions! This was fun. I'm signing off for now, but I'll try to check back in later if I can.

NibblerofWorlds19 karma

Have you uncovered anything that personally shocked you? If so, what?

thenewyorktimes111 karma

There were a lot of surprising things we discovered as we researched the inauguration, including some of the spending by Trump’s inaugural committee. Two things stood out to me about the spending: 1) some of the lavish touches at major donor events, especially at the Candlelight Dinner at Washington’s Union Station. We got a hold of spending records show that the hundreds of seat cushions for the event cost $65 each. The committee also spent $130,270 on commemorative bowls from Tiffany’s, & $675,000 in decorations, including six 32-foot-tall obelisks covered in green moss. 2) the amount of self-dealing: the financial records we got showed that about 1/3 of all the money spent by Trump’s inaugural committee went to five major vendors that had some connection to the Trump family or their close friends, including $1.5 million that went to the Trump Hotel.

almondparfitt16 karma

how much is the inauguration used to get administration jobs -> in general and also in comparison w/what you saw w the trump admin?

thenewyorktimes28 karma

Good question! Working on the inaugural committee has long been considered a way to get a foot in the door of a new administration. And I think in some ways that was even more true with Trump then with previous administrations, in part because his early campaign staff was very small (leaving open many of the administration jobs typically filled by early campaign loyalists) and in part because so many establishment Republicans had kept their distance from Trump's campaign, thinking that he was going to lose. So when he won, lots of Republican operatives and policy hands saw the inaugural committee and the transition team as a chance to get in on the ground floor with the new administration. And many folks who worked on the inaugural or transition committees ended up getting top jobs in the administration.

ereich66 karma

Based on your reporting do you have any reason to believe prosectors in SDNY or EDny are actively building cases against people like Barrack, Broidy with gates help?

thenewyorktimes14 karma

Federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas to both the inaugural committee and people around it. We also know that federal investigators last year raided the LA office of Elliott Broidy, who was a top fundraiser for Trump's campaign, the inaugural committee and the Republican National Committee. And we also know that Rick Gates continues to cooperate with prosecutors, which is notable, since he was both deputy chairman of the inaugural committee, and also a consultant after the inauguration for both Broidy and Tom Barrack, the inauguration chairman. So Gates potentially has lots of information that could be useful to prosecutors on a number of fronts.

therock215 karma

What was the record before Trump raised $107 million? Did Trump actively try to raise more?

thenewyorktimes31 karma

Obama raised $53 million for his 2009 inauguration, which was the previous record. My colleague Maggie Haberman (who is one of the best reporters I've ever worked with, btw) did a revealing interview on this subject with Steve Bannon, which was featured in the inauguration episode of our TV show, The Weekly. Bannon told Maggie that he "had made an argument we should be one dollar less than Obama. And we should not even have the lunch. Do the inauguration, not have any big parties or anything like that. Very bare bones." The message that would convey, according to Bannon, channeling Trump is that "'the country’s in a crisis. This is why I’m president. I’m here to do something very different than has been done before.' And I made my little pitch. Other people had other ideas and I under- my idea didn’t win." The clip is available here: https://twitter.com/TheWeekly/status/1143927149763551232 Hopefully, it'll whet your appetite to watch the whole episode.

Cosminvilcu4 karma

Who paid for Dragnea, the now imprisoned former party leader in Romania?

thenewyorktimes13 karma

Dragnea was a guest of Elliott Broidy's -- at least at the Trump hotel dinner at which he got to shake the hand of the president-elect.

Togapr332 karma

Before your reporting on this -- I'm not sure I was even aware of how much goes on in an inauguration -- thank you for teaching me something new!

My question: At the end of the day do you think Trump voters will care about this ? And do you think more transparency is needed in regard to inaugurations?

thenewyorktimes13 karma

Thanks for reading our reporting, and for the questions. 1) Trump has cast much of the scrutiny of his campaign, inauguration and administration as part of a political plot to undermine him, and his supporters seem to both accept that explanation, and to be energized by it. So I'd be surprised if the president's base was bothered much by the scrutiny of the inauguration -- either by the media or by prosecutors. 2) While inaugural committees are required to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, there are ways to shield information about the source of donations, including by using LLCs to donate. Also, inaugural committees are only required to disclose very limited information (to the IRS, not the FEC) about how the committees spend the money they raise. So those factors can make it difficult to follow the money all the way from the source through the vendor to the ultimate provider of the services or goods purchased by the inaugural committee.

RPofkins0 karma

When are you taking the Nerdcast over again? It's really gone downhill...

thenewyorktimes5 karma

I loved doing the Nerdcast (and working at Politico, generally), but I think Scott Bland, Charlie Mahtesian, Nancy Cook and the gang over at Politico are doing a great job.

SuccubusUnderYourBed-1 karma

Do you like bacon?

thenewyorktimes20 karma

I love bacon, which I guess makes me a bad Jew, but it is so delicious!