She said she played no role in planning inaugural events. These records suggest otherwise.
The Trump family has trouble with depositions. In 2007 testimony, Donald Trump was repeatedly shown to be a liar. In February, Donald Trump Jr. was deposed in the Trump inauguration scandal lawsuit, and on several key points, under oath, he provided false testimony. A review of documents filed in that case and other material obtained by Mother Jones shows that Ivanka Trump also testified inaccurately during her deposition in this lawsuit.
The inauguration probe was launched last year by Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, DC. He has alleged that Trump’s inauguration committee misused charitable funds to enrich the Trump family. As Racine put it, the lawsuit maintains “that the Inaugural Committee, a nonprofit corporation, coordinated with the Trump family to grossly overpay for event space in the Trump International Hotel… The Committee also improperly used non-profit funds to throw a private party [at the Trump Hotel] for the Trump family costing several hundred thousand dollars.” In short, the attorney general accused the Trump gang of major grifting, and he is seeking to recover the money paid to the Trump Hotel so those funds can be used for real charitable purposes.
During a December 1 deposition—in which she swore to tell the truth—Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter of Donald Trump who was an executive at the Trump Organization before becoming a White House adviser to her father, was asked if she had any “involvement in the process of planning the inauguration.” She replied, “I really didn’t have an involvement.” Ivanka testified that if her “opinion was solicited” regarding an inauguration event, she “would give feedback to my father or to anyone who asked my perspective or opinion.” And that was as far as her participation went.
But this wasn’t accurate, according to the documents, which indicate she was part of the decision-making for various aspects of the inauguration, including even the menus for events.
One email chain shows that Ivanka Trump was directly involved in the planning of at least one proposed event for the inauguration. On November 29, 2016, Rick Gates, then the deputy chairman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee (known as the PIC), emailed her the current schedule of inauguration events. He noted that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a lead producer working with the PIC, “is going to call you to discuss some additional ideas she has about some other events that we would like to see if you would be willing to do based on our meetings.” Ivanka replied to Gates and Winston Wolkoff, “Great. I am looping in my assistant Suzie who can coordinate a time for us to connect.”
A few days later, Winston Wolkoff sent a long “Dear Ivanka and Jared” email to Ivanka Trump and her husband. She thanked them for “our meeting yesterday” and presented them with a “high-level summary” of the inauguration plans “for your review.” This was a detailed report on the assorted events and themes being created for Trump’s inauguration. The “overarching strategic objective,” she reported, was “reinforcing” the theme “With the People: Making America Great.” She laid out “key” messages, including “Our greatest strength is our people” and “Americans deserve to be heard, and their government needs to listen.” She noted that in their recent meeting, she and Ivanka Trump had discussed how to include Donald Trump’s “constituency” in the events, and Winston Wolkoff referred to proposals for doing so. This included inviting “families from all 50 states to attend official functions” and provide them “Airfare. Accommodations. Hair & makeup.”
In this email, Winston Wolkoff also asked Ivanka to confirm that she would host a “Women’s Entrepreneurs Reception/Dinner” as part of the inauguration. “Please let me know who…you would like invited,” she added. And she asked whether Ivanka Trump would prefer for the event to be hosted at the National Museum of African American History or the National Gallery of Art. Winston Wolkoff also attached to the email the communications strategy for the inauguration, the proposed event schedule, and a list of the “100 most influential women in Business, Philanthropy, Fashion, Politics and Finance.” She ended the note saying she would “follow up” with them “at TT”—a reference to Trump Tower.
Kushner replied the next day in a brief email to Winston Wolkoff and told her, “Thanks, Stephanie – looks like it’s going to be a special event! So glad you are involved!” Ivanka Trump responded, too, later that day, with a more elaborate email, stating, “As mentioned, my interest in hosting [the dinner or reception for women entrepreneurs] depends on the quality and theme of the event. ” She added, “I would love to bring together an incredible group of female entrepreneurs and thought leaders and integrate young girls in the programing. If we can make it an impactful event, I would love to do it.” She asked Winston Wolkoff to work with Abigail Klem and Rosemary Young, respectively the president and marketing head of Ivanka’s company. “It would be great to have a cross section of industry and also invite top female cabinet members and lawmakers,” she wrote. Ivanka also volunteered to help Winston Wolkoff if she had any problems coordinating with Reince Priebus, whom Trump had picked to be his White House chief of staff, and Katie Walsh, his deputy: “please let me know if you don’t get the direction that you need from Reince and Katie and I will step in.”
That same day, Klem emailed Winston Wolkoff to set up a time to discuss the Ivanka Trump event, and she cc’d Ivanka and Kushner. On December 6, Winston Wolkoff met with Ivanka and her business associates regarding the women’s event to be hosted by Ivanka, according to Winston Wolkoff. In her book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady, which chronicles a host of internal problems within the PIC, Winston Wolkoff recalls that this meeting caused her to wonder “why was the PIC planning an event for Ivanka at all? And how had I gotten roped into it?”After the meeting, Tom Barrack, the billionaire pal of Donald Trump who was chairing the PIC, texted her, “We have so much to do for each of them,” referring to Trump family members.
The gathering of women entrepreneurs was eventually scuttled, but Ivanka Trump remained involved in other components of the inauguration planning. In late December 2016—after news reports noted that Donald Trump could not draw big-name entertainment figures for his inauguration events—Matthew Hiltzik, a public relations consultant, sent her an email under the subject heading, “Here is the point i was going to share earlier…” He told her that the “narrative surrounding inauguration is going awry.” Referring to Mark Burnett, the television producer who had created The Apprentice and who was working on the inauguration, Hiltzik wrote, “Mark B and i were talking and he specifically suggested/requested that i raise this issue with you and he and i discussed the situation. Basically – in order to better control the narrative, you should have stephanie [Winston Wolkoff] be front and center on this and there needs to be clear direction expressed publicly about what the inauguration plan IS (celebration of talent of lesser known but incredibly gifted Americans) as opposed ot [sic] being defined by what it is NOT (no – or few – hollywood and top mainstream musical talent). Always best to be defined by what you are, vs. what you are not.”
As Winston Wolkoff wrote in her book, Hiltzik “was warning Ivanka to distance herself from the bad inauguration press and pushing me to the top of Shit Mountain.” Ivanka forwarded this email to Winston Wolkoff with a simple message: “I agree.”
Other emails show that Ivanka did participate in discussions about the talent being recruited for the inauguration. On December 23, Jon Reynaga, a producer working on the event, emailed Gates and Sara Armstrong, a top PIC official, with a list of musical artists being booked for inauguration events. “They are all somewhat known acts but non-are A-listers,” he observed. (The roster included Fantasia, a female soul singer, Big and Rich, a country act, and Katharine McPhee, an American Idol runner-up.) Armstrong replied, “Well I’m worried this gets into the lower level that Ivanka didn’t want.” Gates responded that Barrack had okayed this list, and he added, “The entertainment is coming in at cost/expenses which is one of the most important points for DJT – he will like that.”
In a December 16 text to Reynaga, Winston Wolkoff reported that Trump “DID NOT APPROVE THE BEACH BOYS and he nor Ivanka want them.” Asked about this during her deposition, Ivanka Trump said, “I don’t recall that. I love the Beach Boys.”
According to text messages between them, Ivanka Trump instructed Winston Wolkoff to make sure there would be “tons” of reporters at the celebratory candlelight dinner being held the evening before the inauguration and at the inauguration balls. When Winston Wolkoff told her that the communications team for the Trump transition was not sending out information on these events to all the media, Ivanka took action. She communicated with Sean Spicer and texted back to Winston Wolkoff, “He is on it and will circle up with…you.”
One PIC planning document noted that Ivanka had a say in the catering. Winston Wolkoff, it reported, “needs to get menus approved by IT and DJT.”
In her book, Winston Wolkoff recounts a mid-December meeting in Donald Trump’s office during which she presented to him and Ivanka the plans for eighteen inauguration events. “I grabbed my binder, went over to Donald’s side of his desk, and sat with my knees on the floor…Ivanka hovered over me…[and] made comments and asked questions.” (“I want tanks and choppers. Make it look like North Korea,” Donald Trump said.) Days later, Winston Wolkoff tells Mother Jones, she attended a meeting at Ivanka Trump’s office at Trump Tower where she provided Ivanka and other family members “a run-through of the entire inauguration,” which included slides on events, the communications strategy, and its branding.
During her deposition in the inauguration case, Ivanka Trump downplayed her relationship with Winston Wolkoff. She described Winston Wolkoff as “a person I knew in New York who does events,” adding, “I didn’t know Stephanie Winston that well. I just knew she was very good at planning. I just knew her in that capacity.” Winston Wolkoff, she said, was no more than “an acquaintance.” But emails between her and Winston Wolkoff obtained by Mother Jones indicate that in previous years, Ivanka Trump and Winston Wolkoff had been friends. In 2012, Ivanka emailed Winston Wolkoff, “Jared and I are having a few friends over for dinner next Monday night (Nov 12th) and would love to have you and David join us. It will be a very casual, small group and I promise good food and conversation. If not, let’s catch up soon.” In another email exchange, the two women texted about family matters when they set up a lunch date.
Ivanka Trump was instrumental in landing Winston Wolkoff a top spot at the PIC. Days after Trump was elected president, she emailed Barrack, “Per our conversation, I want to connect you with Stephanie, cced. She would be great for you to speak with about the planning of the inauguration—as mentioned, i have no doubt she will be invaluable to you!”
But Ivanka Trump may now have reason to distance herself not only from the messy inauguration scandal but also from Winston Wolkoff, who became something of an internal whistleblower. During the planning process, Winston Wolkoff raised an important matter within the PIC: whether the Trump Hotel was overcharging Trump’s inauguration committee. (This matter is at the heart of Racine’s lawsuit against the Trump Organization and the PIC.) The first cost estimates were high, and Ivanka Trump interceded to obtain a better rate. But Winston Wolkoff believed this new estimate—$700,000 for meeting and banquet rooms reserved for four days—was still twice the market rate. On December 17, 2016, she emailed Gates, Ivanka Trump, and others to express her concern. “Please take into consideration,” she warned, that the PIC’s spending would eventually be audited and this deal with the Trump Hotel would “become public knowledge.” Winston Wolkoff is now a lead cooperating witness in Racine’s lawsuit against the Trump Organization and the PIC.
Mother Jones sent lawyers for Ivanka Trump and the Trump Organization a list of questions about her deposition testimony and its accuracy. They did not respond. Racine’s office declined to comment on Ivanka Trump’s deposition.
In her own deposition in the inauguration scandal case, Winston Wolkoff testified that she was worried “it would look [that] members of the Trump family or the Trump Organization or the Trump Hotel financially profited from the inauguration.” During that deposition, she was asked whether it seemed “improper” to her that Ivanka Trump was “involved at times in decision-making about some of the events that were part of the inaugural festivities.” She replied, “I think it was questioned…It was out of the ordinary.”