Home Politics Elections Trump’s PAC funded Smithsonian portraits though individual donors were suggested, emails show

Trump’s PAC funded Smithsonian portraits though individual donors were suggested, emails show


newly received email indicated that several individual donors were prepared to fund official portraits of Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, but the Smithsonian ultimately agreed to accept a $650,000 contribution from Trump’s Save America PAC .

The donation marked the first time in recent memory that a political organization has financed a portrait of a former president for the museum, as they are typically paid for by individual donors solicited by the Smithsonian. news of unusual gifts, First reported in August By business Insideralso sparked a public backlash against the museum and questions about the identity of a Second donor who made a separate gift of $100,000 to help fund the portrait, according to emails obtained by the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and reviewed by The Washington Post on Monday.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas reiterated Monday that The second donor “is a civilian and wishes to remain anonymous.” She also noted that one portrait is completed and another is “in process.”

However, museum rules stipulate that a portrait of a former president cannot be unveiled if that person runs for office again. Therefore, St. Thomas told The Post that the museum probably won’t release the names of the two commissioned artists until after the 2024 Pres. Election, If Trump wins that election, the paintings will not be displayed until after his second term, according to museum rules.

“We don’t release cast names until the unveiling, although in this case that could change because so much time will pass,” St. Thomas said. A 2019 picture of trumpTaken by Angel Dukovich for Time magazine, the portrait is temporarily on display in the National Portrait Gallery’s “Presidents of America” ​​before the official portrait is revealed. According to the Smithsonian, that photo will soon be rotated for conservation reasons.

According to the emails, negotiations between museum officials and those working with Trump and their funding went on for months, beginning in early 2021, shortly after Trump left office.

Messages from National Portrait Gallery director Kim Saget to Molly Michael, who was then Trump’s executive assistant after he stepped down, describe the process. Saget noted that Trump will have final approval — or disapproval — of the painting before it goes on display. (Museum officials later called Trump’s team to clarify that they would not have final approval, a Smithsonian representative told the Post.)

“Certainly, if Mr. Trump has ideas for other artists, we would welcome suggestions,” Saget wrote in an email to Michael on March 18, 2021. “The goal is to come up with a painter that both museum and sitter feel will create a good likeness for America’s gallery of presidents forever.”

About two months later, Saget also specified that the National Portrait Gallery raise private funds for all presidential portraits and requested help in contacting “friends and admirers of Trump who can support these commissions”.

However, she asked that potential donors not be related to Trump or own businesses.

Sajet wrote to Michael on May 28, 2021, “To maintain a respectful distance between his personal life and his public legacy, we would prefer not to contact members of the Trump family or contribute to any of Trump’s businesses.” “

Michaels told Saget about a week later that Trump’s team had “identified several donors who, as individuals, would likely give the full amount.”

“I’ll be sending out names and contact information in the coming days, just getting our ducks in a row and figuring out POTUS’ final preferences,” Michael wrote.

Michael sent another list a week later, but those names were redacted in publicly released emails seen by The Post. Michael wrote that he had “a dozen more to come if needed”.

It’s unclear what happened on the fundraising front after that and leading up to Trump’s decision to accept money from the PAC. The email shows that the conversation happened multiple times over the phone or in a virtual meeting.

The two exchanged emails regarding a “first meeting” for the portrait in September 2021. Then, on February 17, 2022, Sajet sent Michael an email once again clarifying the museum’s collection policy.

Saget wrote, citing the policy, “No living person may be permitted to pay the cost of his own portrait.” “NPG may contact a sitter’s family members, friends and acquaintances to cover the cost of the portrait commission, as long as NPG proceeds in negotiations and the requested parties do not influence the choice of artist or price. “

On March 8, 2022, Saget asked Michael if she could share any updates on the phone call to those who expressed interest in supporting the museum’s work.

Sajet wrote, “We are starting to lay out the costs that will need to be paid, and we are looking forward to getting something closer on the fundraising portion of our project.”

After several emails to coordinate phone calls, Michael wrote to Sajet on March 25, 2022, saying that “the best contact to follow up on our discussion” was Susie Wills – a Republican political consultant who later A senior advisor will be designated. On Trump’s 2024 re-election campaign.

In a letter on Smithsonian letterhead dated May 11, 2022, museum officials wrote to Save America PAC treasurer Bradley Crate to acknowledge the political organization’s “recent generous pledge of $650,000” to support the commission of the Trump portrait .

Museum officials wrote, “In recognition of this generous support, the Smithsonian will recognize Save America on object labels that will be displayed alongside the portraits and on the NPG website with images of the portraits.”

He said the Save America PAC would also get to invite 10 guests to attend the unveiling ceremony and organize a private viewing of the paintings for five guests afterward.

On July 20, 2022, Wills emailed Usha Subramanian, director of advancement for the National Portrait Gallery, with a copy of the signed agreement.

The museum said last year that the commission fee for the two Trump portraits would be $750,000, which would be covered by a Save America PAC donation and a second private gift of $100,000 from an anonymous individual donor.

Although unusual, the donation is legal because Save America is a leadership PAC with few restrictions on the use of the money. Such political action committees, in addition to promoting like-minded candidates, may be used to pay consultants, cover travel expenses, and defray legal bills, among other costs. Most of the money in Trump’s PAC comes from small-dollar donors who respond to emails and other solicitations.

A representative for Trump declined to comment. On Tuesday, Smithsonian spokeswoman Concetta Duncan told The Post that the museum made a distinction between Trump’s political action committee and his family members and businesses.

“Because the PAC represents a constituent of donors, the Portrait Gallery felt comfortable accepting the money as the collective entity would have no influence on the choice of artist or price,” she wrote in an email.

The museum received backlash after news broke last year of the donation. In an email last August, a social media strategist for the Smithsonian gathered tweets from users who were upset by the donation announcement.

“Of course, people don’t understand that we have pictures of all the presidents,” wrote social media strategist Erin Blasko. “They’re upset that we’re getting a Trump portrait, but at the same time a lot of people are upset that this counts as a ‘donation,’ especially since their fundraising practices have been criticized.”

Also included was a copy of a handwritten letter, written by a frustrated patron who described himself as the same age as the former president and said that the museum did not put a portrait of Trump on display.

“Please, at least wait until the DOJ and FBI investigations are over,” the patron wrote. “He used our precious White House for his crimes.”

At the time, St. Thomas told his museum colleagues that he felt the protest was “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Read the article,” she wrote in an email. “They list other things offered by the PAC. And there we are.

Although the National Portrait Gallery was created by Congress in 1962, it did not begin commissioning portraits of outgoing presidents until 1994, when Ronald Scheer painted a portrait of George HW Bush.

In the past, these paintings have been funded by private donations, usually from supporters of the outgoing administration. More than 200 donors – including Steven Spielberg, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen – contributed the $750,000 commission fee for the Obama portraits, which were painted by Kihinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. No political action committees were included in the list of donors for portraits of the Obamas and Bushes.

Azzi Pebarah contributed to this report.

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