DC sues Trump inaugural committee over payments to president’s hotel

DC sues Trump inaugural committee over payments to president’s hotel
In this March 11, 2019 file photo, the Trump International Hotel is seen in Washington. (Mark Tenally/AP, File)

WASHINGTON — The attorney general for the District of Columbia announced Wednesday that his office sued President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and others, accusing them of illegally using nonprofit funds to benefit the president’s family.

In an 18-page complaint filed Wednesday in the Superior Court for the District Columbia, officials accused the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee of overpaying for event space at the Trump International Hotel in Washington by about $1 million.

“District law requires nonprofits to use their funds for their stated public purpose, not to benefit private individuals or companies,” Attorney General Karl Racine said Wednesday in a statement. “In this case, we are seeking to recover the nonprofit funds that were improperly funneled directly to the Trump family business.”

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The committee has maintained that its finances were independently audited, and that all money was spent in accordance with the law.

In the complaint, officials said the inaugural committee paid for event space at the Trump-owned hotel despite objections from the group’s event planner, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Officials said she warned inaugural committee Deputy Chairman Rick Gates, Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, that they were being charged at least twice the market rate. Authorities said despite her concerns, the committee never considered holding events in less-expensive venues.

The committee also paid for event space at the hotel even for days on which they did not hold events and while other groups were utilizing the space, officials said. "Another nonprofit corporation using the same space during inauguration week paid only $5,000 for the space, an amount with the Trump Hotel's pricing guidelines, while the (presidential inaugural committee) was charged amounts well in excess of those pricing guidelines," according to the complaint.

The other nonprofit corporation was identified as the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. He said Trump's inaugural committee paid the $175,000 full-day usage fee for the event space despite the double booking.

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.

In a statement obtained by The Hill, Trump Hotels spokeswoman Kimberly Benza dismissed the lawsuit as “false, intentionally misleading and riddled with inaccuracies.”

“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,” Benza said, according to The Hill.

"The AG’s after the fact attempt to regulate what discounts it believes the hotel should have provided as well as the timing of this complaint reeks of politics and is a clear PR stunt.”

In addition to the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, the suit also named the Trump Organization and Trump International Hotel.

Racine said his office focused on the inaugural committee and the companies that profited because investigators believe that's the best option for them to possibly recover the funds.

The inaugural committee is also being investigated by New York and state authorities in New Jersey, who are looking into, among other things, whether foreigners illegally contributed to the inaugural events.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.