“President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to First Lady Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity,” the New York Times reports.
Washington Post: “The attendance of members of Russia’s elite at Trump’s inauguration was evidence of the high anticipation in Moscow of a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations, following a campaign in which Trump stunned U.S. foreign policy experts by repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
“As questions about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election were beginning to percolate publicly, prominent business leaders and activists from that country attended inaugural festivities, mingling at balls and receptions — at times in proximity to key American political officials.”
“Their presence caught the attention of counterintelligence officials at the FBI.”
“Nearly a year after President Trump’s inauguration, the committee that raised a record $106.7 million for the event has not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided a final accounting of its finances,” USA Today reports.
“While the committee must report names of donors who give at least $200, election law does not require an accounting of the spending. And there are few restrictions on how leftover funds are used.”
As chaos continues in Washington, Gov. Chris Christie (R) told the Newark Star Ledger that the decision to dump him as Trump’s transition chair — and throw his plans in the trash can — was a dumb one.
Said Christie: “I can only tell you who ultimately executed on it and that was Bannon, Priebus and Kushner, They were the three guys in charge and they were the ones who ultimately made that recommendation to the president. And I think they ill-served him by doing it.”
Gov. Chris Christie (R), who helped put Jared Kushner’s father in prison, “showed no mercy toward the senior White House adviser, encouraging Russia probe investigators to closely examine any hand he may have had in potential wrongdoings by the Trump campaign,” Newsweek reports.
Christie said Kushner “deserves the scrutiny, you know why? Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role. Well then if he’s innocent of that, then that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts. And if he’s not, that will come out too.”
“Officials of President Trump’s transition team plan to ask Special Counsel Robert Mueller to return ‘many tens of thousands‘ of transition emails they contend were unlawfully provided to him,” Axios reports.
“But the prosecutor’s office says emails being used in the investigation were properly obtained.”
“The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters such as potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained “many tens of thousands” of Trump transition emails, including emails of Jared Kushner, transition team sources tell Axios.
“Trump officials discovered Mueller had the emails when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses, the sources said. The emails include 12 accounts, one of which contains about 7,000 emails, the sources said.”
”The accounts include the team’s political leadership and the foreign-policy team, the sources said.”
“FBI officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition,” the New York Times reports.
“The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.”
“There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he was ousted as head of President Trump’s transition due in part to his opposition to the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Politico reports.
Said Christie: “I thought it was a significant reason… Suffice to say, I had serious misgivings, which I think have been confirmed by the fact that he pled guilty to a felony in federal court.”
Former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland “told lawmakers that she did not discuss or know anything about interactions between Sergey Kislyak, who had been Moscow’s ambassador to the United States,” and Michael Flynn, the New York Times reports.
“But emails… appear to undermine those statements. In a Dec. 29 message about newly imposed Obama administration sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Ms. McFarland, then serving on Mr. Trump’s transition team, told another transition official that Mr. Flynn would be talking to the Russian ambassador that evening.”
“Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea Friday for lying to the FBI is alarming news for Donald Trump. But the first person it’s likely to jeopardize will be the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner,” Bloomberg reports.
“Two former officials with the Trump transition team who worked closely with Flynn say that during the last days of the Obama administration, the retired general was instructed to contact foreign ambassadors and foreign ministers of countries on the U.N. Security Council, ahead of a vote condemning Israeli settlements. Flynn was told to try to get them to delay that vote until after Barack Obama had left office, or oppose the resolution altogether.”
Politico: “When Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.”
“They did this before an audience of other transition officials, according to the two people close to the transition and a campaign official — though another former transition official disputed the idea that the binders and picks were not considered by the Pence-led transition team.”
“Ultimately it was Trump himself who made the decision to ditch Christie’s recommendation against hiring Flynn for national security adviser… That fateful decision brought the simmering Russia scandal into the West Wing and set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the president’s team had any involvement in Russian election meddling.”
“President Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million for a ceremony that officials promised would be ‘workmanlike,’ and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for redecorating at the White House and the vice president’s residence in Washington. But nothing has yet gone to charity,” the AP reports.
“What is left from the massive fundraising is a mystery, clouded by messy and, at times, budget-busting management of a private fund that requires little public disclosure. The Associated Press spoke with eight people — vendors, donors and Trump associates — involved in planning and political fundraising for the celebration, an event that provides an early look at the new president’s management style and priorities. The people described a chaotic process marked by last-minute decisions, staffing turnover and little financial oversight.”
Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, CNN reports.
“The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.”
Aides and volunteers on Donald Trump’s presidential transition were instructed to save any records related to “several pending investigations into potential attempts by Russia interests to influence the 2016 election,” Politico reports.
“In the memo from a transition lawyer, campaign officials were told to preserve all documents related to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and a number of campaign advisers and officials, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, advisers Carter Page, Rick Gates and Roger Stone, and former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn.”
New York Times: “With the order, the transition team lawyers are indicating that they have reason to believe that the five men’s actions are part of investigations by the Justice Department or the House or Senate Intelligence Committees, or will be.”