NEW YORK ― Former President Donald Trump spent $375,000 raised from his followers for rent at his financially troubled Manhattan skyscraper last year ― even though his political committees have no presence in the building.
“It’s a huge scam,” said one former aide with direct knowledge of Trump’s political spending. “I can’t believe his base lets him get away with it.”
The ex-aide’s assertion was confirmed by a Trump Tower employee who screens traffic to offices above the floors that are open to visitors. When asked for permission to visit Trump’s political office recently, the employee told HuffPost that Save America and its related entities did not have offices there.
“It’s all being run out of Florida,” he said, declining to give his name.
Trump’s staff at his political committees did not respond to HuffPost queries.
A HuffPost analysis of Federal Election Commission filings shows that Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC spent $37,541.67 in each of 10 months last year renting office space at Trump Tower, the former president’s 57-story mixed-use building near Central Park.
That was the same monthly amount his campaign had spent there from mid-2017 through the end of 2020, when his reelection campaign was actually based in northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington.
In all those months, there was at most one person who periodically visited the 7,000-square-foot office in Trump Tower, the former aide said. But Trump insisted on having the campaign continue renting there ― as it had during the 2016 election ― because the building was having trouble finding tenants, he said. “They knew they couldn’t lose that money because the building is hurting so bad.”
After the 2020 election, the Trump presidential campaign committee was reformulated as the Make America Great Again PAC and continued leasing the space. Only now it is not used at all, except to store campaign memorabilia, the former aide said. “No one works at that office,” he said. “It sits there locked up.”
Save America and Make America Great Again PAC, as well as the joint fundraising committee that collects money for them both, provide as official addresses the same post office box in Arlington, Virginia. Employees for both entities are listed at that same address.
Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that although Trump is still using his position to funnel donors’ money to himself, it does not appear to be illegal. “There’s no law that says you can’t use this as a scam to enrich yourself. He’s allowed to do this. It’s sleazy, but it’s legal.”
The $375,417 Trump spent for the unused office space is more than the $350,500 that his Save America committee donated last year to Republican candidates running for office, which is ostensibly Trump’s purpose for raising money for his committees.
Trump used similar tactics when he originally created the Save America “leadership” PAC following his election loss in November 2020, claiming in repeated emails and text messages to tens of millions of his supporters that the money would be used to help Republicans win key U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia to maintain control of that chamber. But even though he raised $76 million in those weeks before the Jan. 5, 2021, runoff, Trump spent none of it helping the GOP candidates. Rather, he almost certainly caused both Republicans to lose by disparaging the integrity of Georgia’s elections because the state had voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president, thereby depressing Republican turnout.
Trump’s total donations to candidates is also dwarfed by the amount of money his properties have taken in from GOP candidates and committees staging events at and otherwise patronizing his various properties. Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s tennis and croquet social club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he lives and has a taxpayer-supported post-presidential office, alone received $427,196 in payments last year, just from federal candidates and committees.
His hotels and golf courses in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., took in an additional $153,243.
Trump ended 2021 with $105 million in his Save America committee, which, unlike a campaign committee with strict spending rules, can be used for virtually anything he wants, including paying his personal expenses or even providing himself a hefty salary.
“It’s all a slush fund,” the former aide said.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and by 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured an additional 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
He is now under investigation by federal and state officials in multiple jurisdictions.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil probe of his family business, while the district attorney in Manhattan has been running a criminal investigation. On Thursday, a New York state judge ruled that Trump would have to sit for sworn deposition in James’ civil investigation.
Meanwhile, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, has impaneled a special grand jury just to focus on Trump’s attempt to coerce state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss of that state to Biden in 2020.
And the House Jan. 6 committee has been subpoenaing more and more former and current Trump aides to determine his precise role in that day’s events, while the Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating at least one element of Trump’s scheme to remain in power: the submission of fake Trump “electors” in states that Biden won.
Despite this, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.