A friend of Melania Trump’s who planned the president’s inauguration flagged multiple financial and conflict of interest issues when working on the events — and was ignored.
Vanity Fair‘s Emily Jane Fox reported Thursday that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former Vogue staffer and New York City event planner, was brought on to plan Donald Trump’s inauguration just days after he was elected president. She had no idea what was in store for her.
According to people familiar with recordings made by former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen, Wolkoff can be heard telling the president’s longtime attorney during conversations last summer that she had many concerns with the process that unfolded.
Those recordings, Cohen told the event planner, were later seized by the FBI — and led in part to the SDNY’s investigation into the inauguration that Wolkoff is now involved in.
Wolkoff, the report noted, eventually raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest that could stem from the Trump family businesses’ involvement in the planning — as well as those surrounding deputy inauguration chairman Rick Gates and Tom Barrack, the longtime Trump friend who served as the inaugural chair.
Gates, Fox wrote, “approached a couple individuals working on the inauguration and asked if they would be willing to be paid directly for their work by a donor, rather than by the inaugural committee.”
“They had received more donations than they’d initially anticipated, Gates told these people,” the report noted. “Skirting the usual payment route could allow the inaugural committee to avoid reporting the full amount raised from donors.”
Wolkoff reportedly raised concerns about the deputy chair with the First Lady, expressing her view that “he exacerbated a situation already fraught with potential conflicts of interest.”
She also questioned Gates and Barrack directly about budget issues, people familiar with the conversations told Vanity Fair — and found she was being left out of meetings soon after.
“Because part of her responsibilities included reviewing all budgets from her vendors and presenting them to other members of the inaugural committee, she studied the line items in order to be able to explain them,” Fox wrote. “At points, she could not justify the numbers coming in. After circulation of a quote from one of their largest event-production vendors, Hargrove LLC, Wolkoff was shocked that no one in the organization appeared willing to question the figures.”
In an email to Barrack and her staff on December 31, 2016, Wolkoff made her displeasure known.
“I am DISGUSTED by [Hargrove’s] lack of transparency and entitlement to [the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s] funding,” she wrote. “I can not approve any budget line items because I do not have a clue what these numbers represent!!”
She was particularly concerned about Barrack’s “chairman’s dinner,” which took up ample attention and money, the report noted. Along with Cohen, former RNC finance chairman Elliott Broidy and disgraced Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, invitees included seven “foreign ministers” for Saudi Arabia, one from Qatar and one from the United Arab Emirates.