The Timing of the Inauguration Subpoena

By last May, it was clear that part of Mueller’s investigation covered how Russians laundered money to Trump and his associates via his inauguration fund. It turns out that Sam Patten started talking to prosecutors about his own laundering of Ukrainian money into the inauguration that month. And during Paul Manafort’s trial last summer, Rick Gates had to admit to stealing money from Trump’s inauguration fund. Around that time, I started predicting that Mueller would spin off such “garden variety” corruption to other parts of DOJ.

Meanwhile, the press’ efforts to liberate Michael Cohen’s April 9 search warrant affidavits failed because so many other people were named in it.

Among the things seized in that raid was a recording from Cohen to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who handled some of the money that disappeared from Trump’s inauguration.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

And yet it was just in recent days that SDNY has subpoenaed the inauguration committee for the materials that will reveal all the other ways that Trump profited off his inauguration.

The subpoena broadly asks for all documents related to the committee’s donors and vendors, including documents related to the Federal Election Commission filings in which the committee disclosed its donations. It also seeks records related to any “benefits” such as tickets, photo opportunities or receptions that donors received in exchange for their contributions.


Among the subpoena’s requests is one for documents regarding any donations to the committee “made by or on behalf of foreign nationals, including but not limited to any communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals.”

The subpoena also asks for documents related to “donations or payments made by donors directly to contractors and/or vendors” used by the committee, including any communications related to the possibility of such donations being “made or directed to contractors or vendors.”

The subpoena seeks information relating to a bunch of conspiracy-related crimes — parallel to the crimes Mueller looked at in the Russian investigation, but including other countries.

It discloses that prosecutors are investigating a litany of potential crimes: conspiracy against the US, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations, and violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person, also known as straw donors.

This investigation may explain why SDNY alum Guy Petrillo dropped Michael Cohen in recent weeks: since Cohen refused to cooperate with SDNY on what would have been this investigation, he’s likely to face further criminal exposure for his efforts to get rich off the big party.

My guess is that SDNY is only now getting around to digging into what is surely a vast swamp of corruption because Mueller asked them to wait until his inauguration related equities were done. Which may be consistent with reports that his investigation is coming to a head, perhaps pending just the Mystery Appellant, Andrew Miller, and William Barr’s confirmation. Which may mean that after the results in Mueller’s Russian investigation soften Trump up, this investigation will just be ripening, possibly even at a time where Trump can be indicted.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

54 replies
  1. GRichter says:

    Fantastic post as ever. I do have one question: how do we know it was the inauguration case Cohen wasn’t cooperaring on as opposed to, say, questions about his inlaws, as some have surmised?

  2. Circus Poodles says:

    I think I remember the consensus at emptywheel being that a sitting president cannot be indicted. So when you talk about a potential indictment of Trump here, are you suggesting these cases would wrap up throughout 2020 and lay the groundwork for charges once he’s out of office in 2021?

  3. MattyG says:

    Very interesting. Ive been following developments this evening, things have taken an auspicious turn to say the least. One thought however – might the speculation in your last paragraph also support the reverse idea that it’s the shock of the new SDNY front that will soften up Trump and run interference for the Russian conspiracy investigation? The combo will at very least offer a basket of options for indictment. consideration…

  4. Rusharuse says:

    I’m guessing the “softening up” of Trump would be impeachment, followed by SDNY folk gathering around the campfire to roast his marshmellows?

  5. maestro says:

    Is there any evidence that Trump had anything to do with it knew anything about the inaugural committee? There could certainly be plenty of fish to catch there on a variety of charges, but so far I haven’t seen anything that suggests Trump was personally involved with the committee at all.

  6. pseudonymous in nc says:

    As you’ve mentioned, one of the consequences of spinning off garden-variety grift and graft to other prosecutors is that they’re leakier, especially SDNY and perhaps NY state. But I wonder whether the leakiness has had / will have a greater impact on the WH on a day-to-day basis while Mystery A / Miller / Barr treads water, given that it generates headlines and King Idiot is fixated on the teevee.

    Oh. The WH “severed ties” with Winston Wolkoff on February 28th 2018, two weeks after the WaPo revealed how much money had gone through her company, but also less than a week after Gates took his plea. The timeline of that month in relation to the inaugural — when Gates was apparently wavering about his plea — takes on a new light. And the explanation that the “thrifty” president was upset with the spending looks bullshittier.

  7. André says:

    The Trump Inc. podcast episode from March 2018 on the inauguration has a lot of really interesting background on all this, in particular the really odd “dark money” donations. Who donates to an inauguration privately? What on earth does that get you?

    I’m interested in the fact that the Imaad Zuberi angle seems so important to this subpoena. That aspect seems fairly straightforward compared to some of the shadier stuff.

  8. Obvsly IANAL says:

    According to the Washington Post article on the subpoena, Imaad Zuberi is singled out as a major donor to Trump, post election, including a very large donation to the Inaugural Committee. For years, up to and including the 2016 election, Zuberi gave very generously to Democrats, almost exclusively, if I recall correctly. Then he made the 180 switch over to Trump. Why?

    A brief (very) google search on Zuberi led me to this article in Foreign Policy:

    According to the FP story, which is well worth a read, Zuberi has a murky relationship with FARA rules and regs, to say the least. He has business ties to Qatar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, among other countries.

    As to the timing of the SDNY subpoena, is it entirely out of the question that it might also have something to do with the secret grand jury subpoena, which looks as though it is about to be not secret? I’m just throwing this thought out so it can get knocked down and kicked around until it’s bloodied beyond recognition.

    Apologies to Rayne. Although I have been following Marcy for years (seems like decades), I almost never comment, and I don’t remember my user name.

  9. Hops says:

    “a time where Trump can be indicted.”

    Or should we say, Trumps, plural, can be indicted?

    I think Mueller will hold off indicting Jr until he’s done, given that his Daddy will go apoplectic and create a memorable moment in American politics.

  10. Willis Warren says:

    there’s never been a consensus that trump cannot be indicted. That’s a doj policy.

    He probably won’t be indicted, but that’s only because the doj leans republican. If this were Clinton, we’d be well past the debate

  11. Kevin Finnerty says:

    The ties between the Trump Campaign and the NYC FBI field office are one of the least explored threads of the 2016 election. (Some related new information: I believe Christie has an anecdote in his new book that agents were cheering and posing for pictures when candidate Trump arrived for his first briefing).

    As the SDNY investigation gains steam, it becomes critical that we know what went on between between the campaign and field office.

  12. truthteller says:

    According to the Michael Lewis book The Fifth Risk:

    “Trump was apoplectic, actually yelling, You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?? Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed, Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. […] To which Trump replied, Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.

    Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition. “

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump sounds like more than a miserly grifter.  He sounds in those excerpts like a guy who owes bad men more money than he’ll ever lay eyes on.

    • HighDesertWizard says:

      Thanks, Vern, for the Buzzfeed link. It’s useful for getting a Visual feel for all the “coincidences” of detailed private contact and general public statements.

  13. dwfreeman says:

    On Sunday afternoon, during a two-hour Charlotte promotional talk as part of his “Fear” book tour, Watergate sleuth and book author Bob Woodward, the WaPo associate editor, briefly discussed Mueller’s investigative POV in any case he undertakes. Knowing him since his time as FBI director and having interviewed him then, Woodward said that Mueller told him that his investigative motivation of any individual or case, is aimed at learning as much as possible about the “texture and substance” of a person and his activities, and then “driving deep” to uncover what he needs in all-out pursuit of every possible nuance and flaw to make his case.

    To better illustrate that point, Woodward recalled a story from a Mueller colleague describing his fastidious nature in criminal pursuit. He said Mueller would be willing to charge anyone and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law for ripping off a mattress tag if it suited his purpose.

  14. Savage Librarian says:

    @Willis Warren – 9:46

    BINGO! You are definitely my superhero today, Willis Warren. Been trying to tell EW about this connection for weeks. But with all that snow up there, I guess their heads were so far up in it that they couldn’t see the sunshine.

  15. Jenny says:

    Thank you Marcy.  You always put together the puzzle pieces.

    Reported last year the Trump inaugural committee paid Melania’s friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff as the event planner 26 million for the inaugural.  Of the 26 million, Stephanie personally received 1.62 million.  Once exposed about getting paid 26 million, Melania cut ties with Stephanie.  Smells rather fishy.  So much more to be exposed and more to be revealed…

  16. Roy Alfred Schmitz says:

    1+1=2. Trump was trying to get a 10 million dollar loan for his campaign and gets turned down. Then this: Trump settled all three lawsuits in November 2016 for a total of $25 million after being elected to the presidency. Siphoned cash out of Inauguration Fund?

  17. Fran of the North says:

    After learning how Individual-1 and his family ‘goosed up’ costs in their real estate management practices, ( ) how many of the invoices associated with the inauguration events were padded to provide a kick-back to the grifters? Hopefully there is a paper trail that shows the connections, and the contemporaneous lack of documentation in federal, and most importantly, STATE tax returns.

    Odds are that SWW wasn’t the only one to be well compensated for the efforts. Wasn’t there something recently about the unusually high costs of space at eponymous properties during that time frame? Ivanka was linked to at least one excessive charge??

    • Rayne says:

      I don’t know about the Ivanka-related excess charge but I do know the Trump Hotel-DC racked up massive rate hikes for Inauguration weekend.

      Part of this wasn’t about raking money off the ‘donors’, though. It also suppressed women staying over for the Women’s March.

    • Eureka says:

      Hey Fran, I think you are thinking of this ProPublica article (also discussed in comment thread here).  Ivanka’s role was ~ middlemannish/indeterminate at that time– ‘linked’ is a good word to have used.

      From the article:

      Around the middle of the month, with Inauguration Day scarcely a month away, Ivanka Trump was asked to help resolve a dispute between inaugural planners and her family’s Washington hotel, according to emails.
      The problem: Organizers thought the hotel was charging too much money.
      Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.
      It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

      From a comment and also quoting the article again:

      From the same article, a spokesperson for Ivanka’s ethics lawyer said Ivanka said such discussions should be at a “fair market rate.”
      Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.

  18. Cristabel says:

    ”NONE OF THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE WHITE HOUSE!” At this point, Lyin’ Sarah could just be replaced with a robot that repeats this phrase over and over and no one would be able to tell the difference. Especially if they were able to get the robot to say it real sneery-like.

  19. Jockobadger says:

    Much of this piece has been published on Raw Story under Noor Al-Sibai.  EW getting lots of play lately which could not be a better thing.

    Great work as always.

  20. Doug R says:

    That reply doesn’t always work for me, but I can’t see why the president can’t be subpoenaed for crimes before he became president, crimes that helped him achieve office.

  21. Laura says:

    ‘Fifth Risk’ tells an absolutely appalling story, but it’s a very good read. I’m listening on Audible. Makes me even more disgusted with Chris Christie.

    Also, anyone who thinks government is inherently ‘stupid and bad’ should read it. Lewis recognizes that there are many competent people in federal agencies, keeping their heads down and doing work that really matters. Like training IAEA inspectors, for example.

  22. Manqueman says:

    I’m still figuring how they got all that inauguration money for Melania’s friend and what she did to earn (“earn”?) it.

    I’m no professional, but it certainly looks like laundering or something else not kosher.

  23. Jules says:

    What could be movitating Cohen to not cooperate more extensively with SDNY? He’s already in a mess, why not lay it all out and at least attempt to reduce his legal exposure ?

    • CitizenCrone says:

      @Jules 2:21 am

      I’ve wondered that also.  Last year I figured it was because Trump couldn’t pardon him for crimes in NYS, but that doesn’t pertain anymore.  Maybe he’d have to implicate too many *friends*/family?

  24. David K. Peers says:

    Obviously the timing has more to do with trying to disrupt Trump’s SOTU. That should be obvious to anyone who saw Mueller’s timing on announcing the GRU indictments just as Trump was meeting with Putin last summer.

    Thoughts on the SSCI statement saying they have found no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russians? Or that the Senate has concerns over the Obama Admin’s handling of Russian interference in the ‘16 election?

    Aside from Salon, CBS and Politico the mainstream media seems to have missed this rather important announcement. On a bright note the emptywheel is the the top two hits when you do a Google search for the Senate’s statement. Gotta love algorithms.

    Oh, and I’m neither a Russian nor a troll, btw. Just interested in reading how the group is considering this new information.


    • bmaz says:

      You are not blocked, you dope, you have been placed into auto moderation because you have relentlessly proven yourself to be trollish and antagonistic.

      There, I freed up your latest bit of trollery and self important “questions”. I’ll not respond to that garbage, will be interesting to see if anybody else does. What the principals here think is crystal clear despite your preening “questions”.

      • Rayne says:

        This guy has multiple user accounts here because he can’t stick to a single email address. He’s deployed a douche-y attitude toward commenters here without having spent the time to get to know community members — a privilege extended between friends, not folks who just drop by from time to time. He’s made a whopping 28 comments since October, the first of which defended Carter Page (brilliant).

        Somebody’s pushing buttons and they may push the wrong one soon.

  25. David K. Peers says:

    I don’t have multiple accounts and I post under my real name. I have a gmail account and I have a yahoo account. My browser autofills my info when I sign in. I really don’t watch what email address is being used. I also had no idea there is a delay when posting.

    Dope, eh?

    So how is it trolling when I question the narratives here? I completely understand that we all have different perspectives and I enjoy countering, when I can, others’ points. I also accept them to be held opinions and support that. However, if I find there are factual inconsistencies I challenge.

    My main concerns are the lack of media coverage on issues that would have a significant impact on held opinions, here and in other blogs I visit, even the blogs that espouse positions antithetical to those at the emptywheel. The lack of mainstream media coverage on Richard Burr’s statement that the SSCI has not found evidence of Trump / Russia collusion is very disturbing. It is exactly that lack of coverage that foments the conspiracy theorists and, frankly it really makes me wonder if it is intentional in order to promote further division amongst us. I hold subscriptions to the WSJ, The London Times, The New York Times, the London Review of Books, Commentary Magazine and have joined many other groups, blogs and online magazines. I have close to 300 bookmarks that run the full gamut of liberal and conservative points of view. At this point I have not found coverage on Burr’s statement in either the NY Times nor the London Times. The London Times do have an article on Trump’s weight though. The question has to be, why? Is Trump / Russia collusion allegations not the burning issue of our time? Should we not be pleased the SSCI has found no evidence of collusion?

    Where have we gone wrong?

    I am also Canadian. My interest in all of this is strong but I am not as directly affected as probably the majority of those here are.

    My other concern is the echo chambers we seem to all be setting up. Facebook was criticized in the past for creating the conditions where members would eventually settle into groups of like-minded people with newsfeeds that largely supported existing beliefs. I have very strong, negative views on Facebook, not necessary to air them here but I find this dumbing down of people, by allowing them to stay in their own comfort zones, extremely disconcerting. And to be blunt, that’s what I see on this site times ten.

    I could leave, as you all wish but it is an excellent site, well written, well researched with interesting takes on issues that are counter to positions I may have been holding. I am willing to listen and this site gives me a chance to reassess.

    And perhaps I should not read the comments because in some cases they are maddening. And quite threatening, to be honest. They do not reflect the liberal progressiveness in which I was raised. Maybe this is not a liberal, progressive blog. I may have come to that notion by mistake.

    However, the hostility towards someone who chooses to question or provides alternate points is simply astonishing. It is anti-intellectualism in any other place.

    Hope you understand my position and why I comment on occasion.


    • bmaz says:

      No, Mr. Peers, I have, as I suspect Rayne has, been carefully watching you since you showed up on October 22, 2018. You came in as a  sanctimonious troll, and have maintained that.

      You appeared in support of Carter Page and Russian innocence, and have only proceeded from there. So, spare me the false butthurt and claim to be the one honest good man just asking questions. You are a troll, and you are done.

      • David K. Peers says:

        Well that’s too bad.

        Is there a position I need to take on Carter Page in order to win some tolerance if not acceptance? I’ll give you the Russian thing, it’s too obvious to mount any serious counterpoint.

        Apologies if I sound sanctimonious but I do take issue with the butthurt, the falseness moot as the butthurt doesn’t exist.

        And I will have to look up definitions of trolls to see if indeed I am one. My thoughts currently are that I am not. However, perceptions usually win out over facts.

        • bmaz says:

          You are full of crap. You look up whatever you want. We have your record and know who and what you are. Don’t blow bullshit up our nether regions, “David”.

    • Rayne says:

      First, this: the SSCI has not found evidence of Trump / Russia collusion

      People don’t find what they’re not really looking for; don’t be so naive. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his [re-election campaign donations depend] upon his not understanding it.

      Second: you are not the arbiter of what is and isn’t liberal. It’s a pretty wide spectrum. You are only the arbiter of your personal ideology and preferences.

      Don’t like it here? You can find the exit.

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