The owner of the New York Jets. A Bruce Springsteen cover band. And a firm that hired a pair of Donald Trump’s golf caddies. Those are just some of the characters featured in the local efforts in New Jersey to raise money for Donald Trump’s inaugural—efforts that are now under scrutiny by the state’s attorney general.
Little is known about the probe, other than it is examining how and where the inaugural solicited funds in the Garden State. Prosecutors in New Jersey are staying tight-lipped, and, unlike in the federal investigation launched across the Hudson River in New York, no specific individuals or corporations have been named in any subpoenas. No one has been publicly accused of wrongdoing.
But after speaking to more than a dozen individuals who had either donated to the inaugural committee or helped with fundraising activities in New Jersey, a fuzzy picture has begun to emerge. And it is just as eccentric as the Garden State itself.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last month received documents from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, two sources with direct knowledge told The Daily Beast.
Grewal’s investigators may have their work cut out for them. The Daily Beast’s sources painted a picture of a disjointed and confusing inaugural fundraising effort in the Garden State and one that resulted in only a few hundred thousand dollars in donations—barely a rounding error in the $107 million raised for the inauguration, and a far way off from the $19 million garnered in New York. Those who officially assumed the responsibility of leading financial efforts for the inaugural committee in New Jersey in 2016 told The Daily Beast that they had no real role in raising money but could not say who was in charge.
But several individuals with direct knowledge of the committee’s activities in New Jersey told The Daily Beast that Lewis Eisenberg—a financier, major GOP donor, and chairman of the Port Authority during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks—was one of the leaders of those efforts in the Garden State.
The other was Woody Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson consumer-goods empire and owner of the New York Jets. Johnson became somewhat infamous in the mid-2000s for avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, which he eventually paid back. Trump named him as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, one of the most prestigious offices in the foreign-service corps. Eisenberg was tapped by Trump as U.S. ambassador to Italy.
“Our ambassadors are proud to represent the United States of America to some of our most important partners across the globe as they carry out the goals of the Trump administration,” a State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast. “These ambassadors’ financial contributions have long been a matter of public record. They are honored the president bestowed this trust upon them and they hold their service in the highest regard.”
Several Republican politicos and donors in the Garden State, including those closely connected to the inaugural committee, told The Daily Beast they were not aware of Grewal’s efforts and that any effort to investigate potentially illegal conduct among solicitors, donors, fundraisers, and their events would be misguided. Others said the attorney general’s investigation was another example of “bias” against the Trump administration.
“That office often opens investigations that fall in line with whatever New York is doing,” one former GOP official told The Daily Beast.
Since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in 2018, New Jersey has joined multiple investigations with other states that challenge the Trump administration’s policies.
According to the Associated Press, Grewal subpoenaed the inaugural committee just weeks after federal prosecutors in Manhattan sent their subpoena. The subpoena asked for documents related to “solicitations” in New Jersey as well as fundraising events.