The hypothesis behind this article is based on my own speculation. I have never practiced criminal law, but have been close to litigation for over 55 years, the last 20 of which I have dedicated entirely to representing shareholders in cases challenging breaches of fiduciary duty by corporate insiders. Good prosecutors, and good civil plaintiffs’ litigators alike, are highly skeptical of coincidences. My speculation revealed in the headline is based on two main coincidences — as to amount and as to timing — and several smaller coincidences. Let me explain.
On November 10, 2016, two days after the election, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, federal district court judge for the Southern District of California, who had famously been presiding over a class action on behalf of defrauded Trump University students, denied various Trump motions and advised the parties that they would be wise to attempt settlement. See fortune.com/… and see my own prior post at www.dailykos.com/… By that time, it must have dawned on Trump that there needed to be an inauguration.
On November 15, 2016, one week after the election, Trump’s lawyers and the class action law firm based in San Diego, CA, reported to the Court that they had agreed to settle the class action for $25 million in cash, subject to Court approval. See www.law.com/… This put Trump on the hook personally to pay $25 million in cash.
On that same day, November 15, 2016, Trump announced that his long-time billionaire friend Tom Barrack would chair his Presidential Inaugural Committee. At the same time, Trump announced that other large Trump campaign mega-donors, including Elliott Broidy, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Woody Johnson, and Diane Hendricks, would serve as Inaugural Committee co-chairs. www.cnn.com/…
In the court proceedings following the FBI raid on his offices and hotel room, Michael D. Cohen later advised Judge Kimba Wood of the Federal District Court for the Southern Distict of New York that Broidy was one of only three of Cohen’s clients. www.bloomberg.com/… The proceedings before Judge Wood involved Cohen’s claim that the documents seized were protected by his clients’ attorney-client priviledge. The other two clients Cohen disclosed were Trump and Sean Hannity. www.thedailybeast.com/… Cohen’s “legal services” to Broidy included arranging to pay $1.6 million to hush up then-married Broidy’s alleged affair with a Playboy Playmate-of-the-Month named Shera Beshard (do not confuse with Ms. Beshard with Trump’s lover Karen McDougal, another Playboy Playmate) that resulted, in turn, with Ms. Beshard’s pregnancy and her voluntary termination of that pregnancy. See www.nytimes.com/… and www.washingtonpost.com/…
I say “alleged” because New York Magazine has theorized, with some persuasion, that it was Trump, not Broidy, that had the affair with Ms. Breshard, and that Trump, not Broidy, got her pregnant. nymag.com/… Of course, I do not know what happened. But Trump is a creature of habit, and had a past record of looking for beautiful women at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and having affairs with at least one of them. See www.newyorker.com/… Broidy, who had been previously convicted of an unrelated felony akin to bribery, see www.nytimes.com/… , had a great deal at stake in his continuing relationship to Trump.
Judicial approval of a large federal class action always takes a few months, as class members need to be notified and given a chance to object. Some objected; after briefing, Judge Curiel overruled the objections and approved the settlement; his ruling was upheld on appeal; somebody paid the $25 million in cash for distribution to the class; and the case settled.
(As an aside, note that, as I have argued here before, Eric Schneiderman’s suit in New York had little or nothing to do with this fine result in the Trump University case; at best, Schneiderman was a show horse, not a work horse. See last paragraph in www.dailykos.com/… We now know that the deplorable brute Schneiderman was, at best, amenable to blackmail, including by Trump. www.vox.com/… )
Meanwhile, Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee collected donations totaling $106.7 million, more than double that collected by President Obama’s $53.2 million for his 2008 inauguration, a much larger and more star-studded affair than Trump’s. fortune.com/… Among those with ties to the Russian government who gave to the Inaugural Committee are Alexander Shustorovich, who gave $1 million, Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born billionaire who holds American and British citizenship, who also gave $1 million, abcnews.go.com/…, Russian-born oil executive Simon Kukes, Viktor Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, and his Russian-American cousin, Andrew Intrater. www.dailykos.com/… Oddly, neither Intrater nor Kukes had a history of giving political donations. Id.
Little happened at the Trump Inauguration for which anybody would have had to be paid very much. There were few celebrities. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC had reported this oddity for a year or more. Where did all that money go?
After the Inaugural Committee filed its taxes, the public learned a little more. A firm called Hargrove, which does events like this (and indeed worked on the Obama inaugurations), received $25 million, but most of such payments subsume payments to sub-contractors, performers, and the like. The tax filings do not trace the payments down to the next level of subcontractors. But what was really odd is that an LLC named WIS Media Partners, set up in 2016 by a New York society-party planner and friend of Melania Trump named Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was paid over $26 million. But Ms. Wolkoff says she was paid “only” $1.62 million. See thehill.com/… What happened to the other $25 million paid to Ms. Wolkoff’s LLC remains a mystery.
That is the exact amount needed to pay the Trump University students forming the plaintiff class in Judge Curiel’s court. Now typically, the cash payment in a class action is made into an escrow account when the settlement agreement is signed, or a little later when the trial judge approves it. It is then paid out to the class from the escrow after the period for any possible appeals expires. By this reckoning, the money would have had to have been paid in or by March 2017. The amount is the same. The timing is perfect. My hypothesis, which I cannot prove, is that the money paid by the Inaugural Committee to Ms. Wolcoff’s LLC funded the class action settlement. To repeat, of course I do not know what happened, but any sentient investigator would have to ask.
So what? Well, then, if my speculation is correct, the Russians again paid money to relieve Trump’s personal debt. What did the Russians get for it? Relief from sanctions, which Trump refused to impose even after a law of Congress required him to do so. That smells like a bribe to me. It is probably also taxable income to Trump. It is another case of hiding the true source of funds unlawfully spent, which would constitute the felony of money laundering under both federal law and the law of New York State. I’ll bet Robert Mueller knows the answer, as does the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — the authority that raided Michael Cohen’s office.
Put differently, perhaps Ms. Wolcoff’s LLC, WIS Media Partners, beknowst to her or not, functioned like Cohen’s Essential Consultants in that it hid the true source of some very important funds used to pay undeductible expenses and debts owed by Donald J. Trump.