Inaugural Committee Chair's Company Sought To Profit From Trump Connections
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump delivered his State of the Union address last night. During the speech, the president said the investigations of his campaign and administration are standing in the way of progress.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2019 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.
TRUMP: It just doesn't work that way.
INSKEEP: But the investigations continue within Congress and outside it. Just this week, federal prosecutors in New York subpoenaed members of the president's inaugural committee, and a document obtained by WNYC and ProPublica reveals new information. A company founded by the chairman of the president's inaugural committee made plans to exploit connections to the president. WNYC's Ilya Marritz is on this story. Ilya, good morning.
ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Who was the chairman of the president's inaugural committee?
MARRITZ: Well, his name is Tom Barrack. He is a private equity investor from California. And he and Donald Trump have been friends since 1988, when Barrack was involved in selling the Plaza Hotel to Donald Trump. Deal didn't work out great for Trump; in the end, he had to sell it again. But they remained friends, and early on in the Trump campaign, Tom Barrack became a prominent supporter. He was a big fundraiser for a superPAC supporting the Trump campaign. And after Donald Trump won, he asked his friend to lead his inaugural committee.
INSKEEP: And when you talk about being a big fundraiser, being chairman of the inaugural committee means, raise lots of money for the inauguration. And he raised $107 million.
MARRITZ: Yes, it's a huge fundraising job. That is, in essence, a big part of the job. The other part is planning the parties.
INSKEEP: OK, so he's doing huge favors for his friend, now the president of the United States. And you have come across this document about what else Tom Barrack was doing at around the same time.
MARRITZ: Yeah, so it's an eight-page strategy document on company letterhead, and it talks about all the ways that this huge private equity company - Colony - with billions of dollars under management can make money from its relationships in Washington and around the world.
INSKEEP: This is - this is essentially Tom Barrack's company?
MARRITZ: Exactly. This is the company he founded. At the time, he was the chairman; he's come back as the CEO. So this strategy memo - Inauguration Day comes January 20, 2017, brings in a lot of rich people from around the country, quite a few foreign guests. The following month, this strategic plan is circulated outlining how they can profit. And I just want to read you some key quotes.
MARRITZ: The key is to strategically cultivate domestic and international relations while avoiding any appearance of lobbying. And it goes on to say, no other firms can, quote, "currently match the relationships or resources that we possess." They say, basically, they wanted to convene members of the Trump administration with ambassadors, international businesspeople, and make new opportunities for Colony.
INSKEEP: Now, I guess we should note this is not Tom Barrack personally writing the memo, but it sounds like we have a company that wasn't really involved in Washington before but was involved in finance and saw an opportunity to exploit the suddenly very powerful friend of Tom Barrack.
MARRITZ: Yeah, and we got a statement from Colony - from a Colony spokesman - who said the memo was simply an outline of a proposed potential business plan. It was never acted on or implemented. Colony did not set up a D.C. office, as they talked about. We do know, though, that in - at least in the spring of 2017 - Tom Barrack was doing a lot of meetings in Washington. He got dinner with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and seven Middle East ambassadors in a private room at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. That's the kind of stuff that you would expect, actually, based on this memo.
INSKEEP: Ilya, do you feel you understand how, if at all, this activity by Colony might connect to the federal investigation, federal curiosity that we know of about the $107 million raised for the inauguration?
MARRITZ: Yeah, so in that probe, prosecutors want to know everything about the money coming in and the money going out from the inauguration. And they've indicated they're concerned, particularly, about illegal foreign contributions, possible cash for access situations. As you said, this inauguration took in a lot of money, a lot more than any other ever did. When it comes to answering prosecutors' questions, now it's the task of Tom Barrack to respond - friend of the president, former chairman of the committee, private businessman - now it's his job and his lawyer's job to try to give them answers.
INSKEEP: WNYC's Ilya Marritz, thanks so much.
MARRITZ: You're very welcome.
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