Rick Gates, the former top aide to Paul Manafort, asked at least two vendors if they would take cash directly from donors for the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) services.
According to Bloomberg News, PIC anticipated that their massive fundraising haul would draw questions by the press. The committee raised $107 million but they had a small crowd of people, few inaugural balls and fewer events than past presidents. The committee developed a list of 60 questions that they could practice answering ahead of the inevitable press inquiries.
In the list Bloomberg acquired one of those questions involved Gates directly.
“What did Rick Gates have to do with PIC?" the list asked. “[Need answer]."
Gates was working for PIC chair Thomas Barrack, who used the staff of Colony Capital, a real estate business he and Manafort founded.
"Many financial decisions were centralized in Barrack’s office, and Gates, dubbed 'deputy to the chairman,' was Barrack’s right-hand man, with responsibilities spanning everything from finances to entertainment, according to several people with knowledge of his involvement," Bloomberg reported.
The two men celebrated each $10 million they raised but Gates began to worry that they wouldn't be able to spend it all, two sources with knowledge of the finances told Bloomberg. That's when Gates asked at least two vendors if they'd accept private donations directly to them instead of money from the PIC. It's not known if those vendors agreed to the deal, but such funds could be a way to hide donations from foreign investors legally blocked from donating to the committee.
The Southern District of New York is investigating the PIC for possible money laundering, false statements, mail and wire fraud, according to court documents. There is a fear that foreign money was used to fund activities for the PIC as an effort to curry favor or buy influence with the president.
Manafort associate Sam Patten has already pleaded guilty for laundering $50,000 from a Ukrainian oligarch into the committee from a "straw donor." He reportedly sought tickets to the inauguration.
Representatives from the committee claimed that they didn't have tools available to vet their donors. They didn't clarify if they had access to Google. They also didn't answer whether they asked the donors if they were foreign nationals or not citizens of the United States.
As for the rest of the 60 questions, Barrack and Gates rehearsed, one dealt with "unpleasant inquiries from reporters." They were told to be short and curt.
"For instance, if a reporter were to ask, 'Who selected the staff?' The proposed answer was, 'All staff were hired and vetted appropriately,'" Bloomberg closed.