Trump and his family have spent the last four years making the airtight case that they view the presidency as simply a means to enrich themselves and their associates. They probably don’t particularly like that reputation and, yet, it hasn’t stopped them from funneling taxpayer money to their private business, gouging the Secret Service, and raising legal defense funds that the fine print says could go directly to their pockets. Oh, and, according to a new report, setting up a shell company that spent hundreds of millions of campaign dollars to pay Trump family members along with other expenditures it seemingly wanted to keep under wraps.
According to Business Insider, first son-in-law Jared Kushner personally approved the creation of the company, incorporated as American Made Media Consultants Corp. and American Made Media Consultants LLC, in April 2018. From there, Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump, was named president, with Mike Pence’s nephew John Pence serving as vice president. If you’re wondering why the shell company, described as Business Insider as acting “almost like a campaign within a campaign” was necessary, well, it’s not entirely clear, but it sure sounds like the express purpose was the ability to shield “financial and operational details from public scrutiny,” as it allowed the campaign to avoid federally mandated disclosures concerning what it was spending considerable amounts of money on. And by considerable we mean nearly half of the $1.26 billion raised for Trump’s reelection. Which seems like a lot!
Campaign-finance records showed Trump’s reelection effort and its affiliated committee with the Republican National Committee spent more than $600 million through American Made Consultants since its formation. For months, some of Trump’s top advisers and campaign staff told Insider they had no idea how the shell company functioned, which cast an air of mystery around the operation…. Some of those same advisers said they didn’t learn about John Pence’s and Lara Trump’s involvement until Insider contacted them for this story.
Campaign-law experts have long accused the Trump team of using a corporate pass-through to hide payments. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, led by former Republican Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter, filed a civil complaint with the FEC in July accusing the Trump campaign of “disguising” about $170 million worth of campaign spending in large part “by laundering the funds” through AMMC. Brendan Fischer, the Campaign Legal Center’s director of federal reform, said the payments to AMMC were a “scheme to evade telling voters even the basics on where its money is really going” and a “shield to disguise the ultimate recipients of its spending.”
Within the larger campaign, some leaders told Business Insider they were in the dark regarding the AMMC arrangement, saying that they were generally aware the company was used to purchase TV, radio, and digital advertising but had no idea exactly how much each vendor was keeping for itself. While some advisers have accused former campaign manager Brad Parscale of mismanaging money, the bulk of the cash spent by AMMC—$415 million—occurred after Parscale was fired on July 15. (Parscale has defended his spending as campaign manager.)
As for what Parscale’s successor, Bill Stepien, knew of the situation, a Republican close to the White House suggested to Business Insider that Stepien may have purposely kept himself in the dark so as not to anger Kushner. Another source, though, believed the first son-in-law may have been the one keeping the information from Stepien. “Nothing was done without Jared’s approval,” the source said. “What Stepien doesn’t know is because Jared doesn’t want him to know.”
Legally, it’s unclear what the blowback on Kushner—reportedly in line for a presidential pardon—and other concerned parties could be, and it’s possible no laws were broken. As Business Insider notes, the FEC can issue fines to political committees if it’s determined they broke the law, while the Justice Department can open criminal investigations if it suspects a “knowing and willful” violation of election law. Such investigations are apparently uncommon, though former DOJ and FEC officials have told Business Insider they believe Justice officials could “already be discreetly investigating Trump’s reelection activity.” (While the situation differs, Kushner knows a little something about the violation of election laws, as his father, Charles Kushner, was sentenced to prison for up to 24 months after being convicted of illegal campaign contributions, in addition to tax evasion, and witness tampering, the latter involving Kushner the Elder’s brother-in-law, a prostitute, and a camcorder.)
A spokesman for Kushner did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. The Trump campaign said Friday that “Lara Trump and John Pence resigned from the AMMC board in October 2019 to focus solely on their campaign activities, however, there was never any ethical or legal reason why they could not serve on the board in the first place. John and Lara were not compensated by AMMC for their service as board members.”