Associates of Mark Burnett and Elizabeth Koch feverishly worked all sides of a deal for Amazon Studios to produce a reality series about Donald J. Trump’s 2017 inauguration — one that evaporated as quickly as it appeared, leaving ominous questions to linger around F.T.C. oversight of Amazon’s $8.5 billion MGM Studios acquisition and their knowledge of 20 hours of unaired footage reported for the first time exclusively by THE KNOWS.
By Rocco Castoro
additional reporting by Emily Molli and Rob Waldeck
May 31, 2022
It was T-minus two weeks and counting until President-elect Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in.
Naturally, Amazon Studios had swooped in like an AI-powered drone.
High-stakes negotiations ensued, right down to the last minute. A week to get the deal done, another to film.
Was it possible?
These were the questions Amazon Studios executives had considered on Jan. 5, 2017:
Could — and should — they finance a reality TV-style special about Trump’s inner-circle who were already racing to pull off a weeklong extravaganza leading up to Trump’s inauguration two weeks later?
Top executives on the unscripted side of Amazon received the last-minute pitch directly from Tiny Horse, an Emmy-winning boutique production and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles.
The project’s working title was Race to 58, in reference to the 58th inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America.
Tiny Horse’s pitch offered “unprecedented access to the American public that would shed light on the massive amount of work, effort, and detailed planning that goes into the events surrounding this transition of power that has never before been seen,” per internal emails reviewed by The Knows.
Amazon Studios was first asked for comment on these matters more than four months ahead of publication. Despite three hours of phone calls with its most senior communication executives and 22 detailed questions laid out over several follow-up emails, Amazon refused to comment on the record.
Amazon declined to comment on the record but insisted any alleged negotiations with Tiny Horse for Race to 58 were in line with what its executives said was their typical course of showbusiness.
Similarly unclear and disputed is why Amazon, less than two days before cameras started to roll, ceased negotiations with Tiny Horse on Race to 58, upending the deal as quickly as it had slipped into place with no time left to shop an alternative.
Founders, executives, staff, and acquirers of Tiny Horse, the firm that produced Race to 58, likewise failed to comment despite dozens of inquiries.
More than three dozen producers, staffers, and crew members with knowledge of or involved in the production of Race to 58 also refused or did not respond to exhaustive requests for on-the-record comment.
Questions linger around why the existence and contents of more than 20 hours of video and audio professionally recorded for the series have never been publicly acknowledged despite multiple ongoing investigations into Amazon’s business practices by the F.T.C.
The Knows has exclusively uncovered more than 17 hours of the production's audio from location sound recordist Eric Rosas. The contents of these recordings are reported here for the first time.
“From my perspective of why we were even hired to go there,” Rosas said, “was to create a documentary on how the inauguration was assembled and how all the events were crafted together.”
What remains unclear is whether Politico’s recent reporting that the F.T.C. won’t challenge Amazon and MGM’s $8.45 billion merger means that agency’s previously announced probes have ended.
Equally murky is the merger’s implications for Mark Burnett, whose iron grip as chairman of post-Amazon merger MGM’s Worldwide Television Group appears to remain unabated.
The F.T.C. “may challenge a deal at any time if it determines that it violates the law,” said Lindsay M. Kryzak, director of the agency’s Office of Public Affairs.
The F.T.C. declined to comment on its knowledge of Amazon Studios’ discussions with Tiny Horse about Race to 58, or what was filmed in its wake.
This is the first installment of an investigative serial that will publish over the coming weeks and months. It debuts alongside the prologue of the complimentary podcast series The Knows Investigates: Seven Days In January.
Reporting entailed a careful mastering and granular review of the raw audio, in addition to the review of thousands of documents, including invoices, contracts, budgets, emails, and other materials related to the financing and execution of many facets of 2017 inaugural events. The whereabouts and rights ownership of the corresponding footage remain elusive.
Recorded through Trump’s January 20 inauguration, the audio captures intimate and perhaps world-shifting discussions, speeches, and interviews from a wide cast of powerbrokers, diplomats, and operatives looking to ensure a smooth and prosperous transition of power following Trump’s unlikely election.
Particulars caught on these tapes could be of interest to prosecutors in two ongoing criminal matters in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.
A civil lawsuit brought forth by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine in January 2020 alleged Trump’s 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) and two other Trump-run entities misappropriated at least $1.1 million in nonprofit funds to unjustly enrich the First Family via the former Trump International Hotel in D.C. In May, the PIC reached a $750,000 settlement with Racine that allowed the Trump Organization, the recently sold Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the 58th PIC to deny wrongdoing and avoid the cost of further litigation in the matter.
The settlement came less than three months after Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former adviser to First Lady Melania Trump and chief strategic and creative officer for the 2017 PIC, announced her role as a lead witness in Racine’s civil case in D.C.
Wolkoff was reportedly disappointed by the settlement, but the chase certainly hasn’t been fruitless. It’s led to the depositions of Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., under penalty of perjury, and the release of thousands of pages of communications between those closest to the former president. Confidants whose prior depositions and testimony could now potentially be transposed into future criminal matters, per a May 26 ruling from a New York judge.
The ruling denied Trump’s lawyers request for the non-enforcement of subpoenas related to an ongoing civil probe by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
“The political campaign and other public statements made by [New York’s Office of the Attorney General] about appellants [Trump, et al.],” the ruling reads, “do not support the claim that OAG initiated, or is using, the subpoenas in this civil investigation to obtain testimony solely for use in a criminal proceeding or in a manner that would otherwise improperly undermine appellants’ privilege against self-incrimination.”
“Anyone who sits for a civil deposition where there also is the possibility of criminal charges has to be concerned about self-incrimination,” former SDNY Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Signorelli said. “The Fifth Amendment is absolutely an option that must be considered in those circumstances.”
“If there really is a risk of self-incrimination, taking the Fifth is the better option than not, even if there is an adverse inference that can be drawn against you in the civil lawsuit,” Signorelli continued. “A possible criminal prosecution is so much worse than any negative result in a civil lawsuit that could arise from the negative inference situation.”
A negative or adverse inference can be drawn against the party pleading the Fifth Amendment based on the substance of the question, especially when evidence exists independently proving a fact. This can harm the party in a civil case.
This effectively means that since no criminal proceedings have been initiated for which Trump and his children could plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, they are officially on the hook for what they swore under oath was the truth in past and ongoing civil matters related to the PIC.
Only through the prism of inauguration week’s most exclusive events do the masterplans of the world’s most powerful come into sharper focus.
Notable figures featured on the week’s worth of recordings include: Wolkoff, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, Jr., Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Sheldon Adelson, former RNC finance co-chair and Trump-pardoned felon Elliott Broidy, and chair of the Trump’s inaugural committee Thomas J. Barrack, Jr., indicted summer 2021 for allegedly operating as an unregistered agent of foreign influence for the United Arab Emirates.
Two people worked as hard as anyone to fertilize Trump’s inauguration into a cornucopia of international influence operations: Barrack and his deputy Rick Gates.
Gates and Barrack leveraged the power of ticketing and donations to the PIC to open the U.S. Presidency to operatives representing Gulf autocracies and Russian Doll chicanery in Ukraine.
While the Capitol celebrated its new President, Barrack met with Gulf officials and Gates arranged for Russia’s Ukrainian proxies to meet with Manafort across the Potomac to discuss a sweetheart deal: a Russia-friendly settlement against further hostilities in Ukraine.
Tiny Horse was established as a Delaware LLC in May 2012, according to the state’s Division of Corporations. SEC filings list a $2 million infusion of capital into Tiny Horse in 2012.
A California branch of the company was spun off two years later, listing a principal office address in Naperville, IL.
The same Naperville, IL, address is associated through at least October 2012 with the Illinois branch of Koch Industries’ political dark money monolith Americans for Prosperity.
Americans for Prosperity and its sister PAC helped galvanize the Tea Party into a formidable conservative political movement in the wake of President Barack Obama’s 2009 election through “grassroots” action.
According to data from Open Secrets, during the 2020 election cycle Koch Industries contributed more to Americans for Prosperity Action than any other recipient: $8 million.
More recently heat has been on lawmakers to return Koch-related contributions, with Koch Industries initially remaining one of a handful of Western conglomerates refusing to cease operations in Russia despite unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin for its internationally condemned war on Ukraine. Their refusal came amid a push by Koch-backed groups to oppose sanctions against Russia.
A month later, Koch Industries reportedly relented and began winding down their glass-manufacturing business based in Russia.
Koch Industries founder Fred Koch first realized his family’s billions in the 1930s through an arrangement with totalitarian communist leader Joseph Stalin’s U.S.S.R., by which Koch Industries trained Bolshevik engineers to establish the Soviet Union’s first 15 oil refineries. Through another venture with an American Nazi sympathizer, Koch Industries oversaw construction of an oil refinery in Hamburg, Germany.
Among Tiny Horse’s earliest backers was Elizabeth Koch, the self-proclaimed “apolitical” daughter of sole-surviving Koch Industries principal Charles. Her ventures include an indie media publishing house and a “consciousness research foundation.”
Koch did not respond to questions about her involvement with Tiny Horse or knowledge of Race to 58.
Through at least December 2017 Koch’s eponymous website domain, ElizabethKoch.com, was registered to a Wichita, KS, address long associated with Koch Industries Inc. and many of its subsidiaries, according to historical WHOIS data from total inventory provider SecurityTrails.
As of publication, visitors to ElizabethKoch.com are automatically forwarded to UnlikelyCollaborators.com, the website for Koch’s Unlikely Collaborators LLC.
Dean Jargo, previously director of business development at Koch Industries in the late aughts and again for a year through December 2014, is listed as a manager for the California branch of Unlikely Collaborators spun off in 2014.
Koch’s early investment (exact figures remain undisclosed) in Tiny Horse proved as prescient as her grandfather’s partnership with the Soviet Union had been.
Tiny Horse’s momentum hit full gallop by May 2020 when it was acquired by sports media company Team Whistle in a $30 million deal that included stock swaps. The firm’s client roster had ballooned to include WarnerMedia, Procter & Gamble, Disney, NBCUniversal, Pepsi, Netflix, ViacomCBS, Amazon, and Walmart.
While Tiny Horse appears to have continued its own distinct operations and brand, most of its senior executives have since transitioned to equivalent roles at Team Whistle. Koch apparently remained a shareholder in the combined venture, according to a press release.
Amazon Studios and Tiny Horse’s refusal to comment on their previous work together is ever more puzzling considering Team Whistle’s press release announcing its acquisition of Tiny Horse leads with Amazon in its touting of the aforementioned list of “key clients.”
Aside from its lucrative white-label commercial work for blue chip brands, IMDb credits Tiny Horse with seven productions (with USS Indianapolis: The Legacy the only public direct link between Tiny Horse and Amazon, via the latter’s subsidiary IMDb TV / Freevee).
More recently Tiny Horse won an Outstanding Short Form Daytime Nonfiction Program Emmy for its 2020 series Prideland, about LGBTQ+ youth living in the Southern U.S.
In late March 2021, UK-based global TV programmer Eleven Sports, owned by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani’s Aser Ventures, announced its acquisition of Team Whistle.
A press release from Eleven Sports left deal terms undisclosed. Instead it highlighted the combined entity’s projected $300 million in revenue through June 2021 and its merged pool of shareholders: Elisabeth Murdoch, CAA, Brian Grazer, Derek Jeter, Ron Howard, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo., Peyton Manning, Discovery, ITV, NBC/Sky Sports, and Snap, Inc.
Tiny Horse’s concept for an inaugural reality series was simple: fly-on-the-wall coverage of Trump’s inner-circle in the “… final days of the inauguration and event process leading up to the 2017 Inaugural Balls and events throughout inauguration week,” according to Tiny Horse emails.
Despite lacking a sales deck or “sizzle reel” usually required to pitch and sell a comparable series, Tiny Horse leapfrogged multiple steps of Amazon’s meticulous green-light process.
Over the course of a week, CJ Yu, Tiny Horse’s then-vice president of creative development, engaged directly with Amazon Studios’ most senior executives.
Negotiations developed far enough over the week that Tiny Horse received Amazon’s budget template and its “highly confidential” deliverable instructions, outlining the streamer’s technical requirements and expectations for the delivery of raw footage and production assets.
Amazon refused to elaborate on whether this document would typically be shared with a producer or creator within a week of a first meeting about a comparable project.
Tiny Horse’s negotiations with Amazon began in earnest the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2017, according to internal emails. This left a razor-thin deadline till pre-inaugural festivities — and thus filming — were set to begin.
Minutes before 2 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2017, Tiny Horse's Yu fired off an email to his colleagues. His email recounts what he says was his pitch, phoned in earlier that workday to Sadoux Kim, then a senior development executive at Amazon Studios, who Yu described as a friend.
“I just got off the phone with Sadoux right now,” Yu writes, “and he is pretty confident he could get Amazon to come in and pay for the documentary covering the nuts and bolts of Inauguration Week, even at this late stage.
“[Sadoux Kim] will be circling back with me tomorrow morning first thing after discussing with Conrad Riggs, et all [sic] after we’ve also had a chance to re-group...”
Conrad Riggs was Amazon’s global head of unscripted content, coming off a hot streak of sorts after swooping up Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson for Amazon’s The Grand Tour.
“I framed this up as a ‘license fee/option’ [for Amazon] to have the exclusive rights to produce and distribute the series ($600K paid to the access),” Yu’s email continues, outlining Tiny Horse's tentative deal terms with Amazon.
“Production costs would be on-top-of-this [emphasis Yu’s] as this is just a license fee for the docu access/opportunity, and [Kim] didn’t flinch.”
From a production standpoint, the situation was daunting if not trending toward impossible. It quickly became clear that to pull it off Tiny Horse would have to roll the dice and book a crew on stand-by as negotiations with Amazon would inevitably continue down to the wire.
Not just any crew would cut it; they needed motivated individuals who could collect their gear, breeze through Secret Service background checks, and fly from L.A. to Washington, D.C., at a moment’s notice, according to documents and sources close to the production.
Nevertheless, Yu’s pitch to Kim skyrocketed up the ladder at Amazon.
It didn’t hurt that the executives in direct negotiation — Yu, Kim, and Kim’s boss Riggs — had cut their teeth at Mark Burnett Productions. All three did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon Studios declined to comment on whether the F.T.C.’s review of Amazon’s nearly $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM Studios, which closed mid-March, had inquired whether current or past executives or its board had knowledge of Race to 58 or ownership of associated assets.
Director of the F.T.C.'s Office of Public Affairs Lindsay M. Kryzak cited the agency’s policy to decline comment on investigations or “particular matters.” She made reference to “pre-consummation warning letters” sent to complex or large merged companies it cannot fully investigate within the timeframe provided under 1976’s Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.
Up until the consummation of Amazon’s deal earlier this year, the Burnett-chaired MGM television group held the rights to The Apprentice. These include legendary outtakes salaciously rumored (but never proven) to feature Trump dropping the N-word among other alleged transgressions of what some considered the politically nuclear variety.
In addition to their work for Burnett, Riggs, Kim, and Yu have all been employed by Amazon Studios at various points.
Riggs was put in charge of Amazon’s unscripted content in 2014. His mandate was to land Amazon Prime its own version of Netflix’s runaway hit House of Cards. Before Amazon, Riggs had worked as an executive at the Walt Disney, Co. and a lawyer and agent who’d helped bring to air Burnett’s smash hits Survivor and The Apprentice in the early aughts.
In 2000, NBC reportedly committed between $35 to $40 million for Burnett’s Destination Mir series. It would document the operation of the Russian Federation’s ambitious Mir space station through the eyes of would-be amateur cosmonauts, culminating in one lucky everyday American’s televised ascent into space where they would step aboard the Mir. Baked into the proposed budget was $20 million Burnett had already promised to MirCorp, which held the lease on the space station.
A January 2001 New York Times profile on Burnett details a conference call he’d had with Riggs and undisclosed parties regarding Destination Mir.
“Putin is involved,” Burnett told the Times. “I think Mir is going to be hard only as a political thing. The show will be easy. I really want to do a space show. And, typically, I’m quite good at making things happen.”
Burnett’s optimism about making the show held despite near-certainty from leading experts of the Mir’s inevitable descent into the South Pacific Ocean following operational troubles that resulted from a 1997 incident in which a cargo spacecraft crashed into the space station. The Mir was decommissioned in late March 2001, two months after the Times profile.
Despite their early success together, Riggs later sued Burnett for $70 million in allegedly unpaid proceeds. They settled out of court in 2012 for terms undisclosed.
In a September 2017 Daily Mail interview about Amazon’s The Grand Tour, Riggs referenced the BBC’s 2015 firing of his new star Clarkson from Top Gear following his savage beating of a producer he’d blamed for the inability to order a late-night steak at their hotel: “I thought it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen a network do.”
Weeks later, Riggs left Amazon on the heels of studio head Roy Price’s October ousting following reports Price had sexually harassed The Man in the High Castle executive producer Isa Dick Hackett, daughter of author Philip K. Dick on whose eponymous book the Amazon Original is based.
“You will love my dick,” Price allegedly told Hackett in the back of a cab following their July 2015 promotion of the series at San Diego’s Comic-con.
Yu had worked out of Burnett’s office at Mark Burnett Productions as an undergrad at the University of California, according to Yu’s LinkedIn profile. He returned to the company in 2004 through 2007 where he worked as a creative development executive and associate producer alongside his colleague Kim on hit shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
According to production credits listed on Staff Me Up, Burnett worked with Kim as early as 2003 when the latter was a supervising producer on The Apprentice’s pilot episode for NBC.
From there, Kim ascended to head of business development for Mark Burnett Productions during his decade at the company. Amazon hired Kim in October 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. His tenure at Amazon overlapped with Riggs’s departure and Yu’s mid-2017 hiring.
After departing Amazon, Kim, along fellow former producer for The Apprentice Chuck Labella, was essential in planning the 2020 Republican National Convention (echoing what Yu had told his Tiny Horse colleagues Kim had shared with him regarding Amazon’s earlier interest in co-producing a series about the 2016 RNC with Trump Productions).
After stints in digital strategy and content development at media and production companies like Endemol and TMZ, Yu landed at Tiny Horse in January 2016 and stayed through July the following year, when he departed for Amazon about five months after failing to cinch the deal for Race to 58.
Amazon and Yu would not comment on whether Yu had discussed with the studio his involvement with Race to 58 or whether the F.T.C. had inquired about the production.
As of press time, per his LinkedIn, Yu continues to work as Amazon Studios’ head of unscripted development, global formats.
The conclusion of CJ Yu’s Jan. 6 email to his Tiny Horse team presents the stakes ahead for everyone who is cc'd, and what its memorialization might mean in the greater scope:
While [Amazon] would most likely not be able to offer final cut, they WOULD be willing to contractually agree to non-disparagement of the first family, etc etc, [sic] and [the First Family] could review and make notes on the cut, just not have final editorial authority.
What Sadoux needs is to quickly get a yay or nay from their team, is for us to define exactly what type of access he could receive to the key players… and of course some type of guaranteed access to the first family.
He had also disclosed that months ago, Amazon was very close to closing a documentary deal with Trump Productions during the RNC, but due to timing, they weren’t able to make it work, but both parties were very keen on it at the time.
Let’s discuss tomorrow first thing when you guys are up. Feel free to give me a ring as I know there’s walk-throughs happening beginning at 9 AM etc...
Underpromising and overdelivering, it took Yu all of about an hour to relay late-night movement on Tiny Horse’s potential deal with Amazon.
Great — also since my [last] note, Sadoux Kim has synched up with Conrad Riggs (Head of Television and Distribution) at Amazon Studios
And can confirm that ‘there is DEFINITELY interest’ from their side. He reiterated the key will be if they can have access to and follow key individuals such as SWW, Chairman Barrack, and DJT/Family in the days leading up to the events…
Sadoux is a good friend of mine and a friend of Tiny Horse as well (and also a former [co-executive producer] of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice).
The mentions of “SWW” and “Chairman Barrack” in Yu’s email refer to then-high level Trump confidants tasked with masterminding inauguration week’s most important events and guest lists: PIC adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and Chairman Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.
Neither Wolkoff nor Barrack responded to requests for comment.
Officially it was Ivanka Trump who’d enlisted media executive and Melania’s then-best friend Wolkoff as chief strategic and creative officer of the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee — or “the PIC” for short.
Ivanka would later distance herself from her involvement and interactions with those planning the inaugural events, particularly when questions rose concerning the Trump Hotel’s seemingly inflated rate — first called out by Wolkoff during price negotiations and again years later as the lead witness in the D.C. civil case.
Nicknamed “General Winston” by Vogue’s Anna Wintour for her helming of A-plus-list events like the Met Gala and New York Fashion Week’s Lincoln Center expansion, Wolkoff brought a singular pedigree to the Trump buffet table.
Likewise, Barrack was a master of his domain as billionaire CEO of global equity firm Colony Capital.
These were to be Barrack’s halcyon days relative to his 2021 indictment and subsequent $250 million bail (one of history’s largest) for alleged illegal lobbying of the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, set to go to trial in September.
His decades-long friendship with Trump and disgraced ex-campaign manager Paul Manfort positioned Barrack as Trump’s natural choice to chair his 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Barrack was charged in July 2021 with acting as an unregistered agent of foreign influence for his activities with Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, who attended the Chairman’s Global Dinner as Barrack’s personal guest.
The indictment alleges that well before and after Trump’s inauguration, Barrack used his access to top Trump officials and advisers at the behest of high level U.A.E. government officials to push policy positions, arrange meetings, and appoint or “elevate” officials into high places.
Between the election and inauguration, Barrack was in frequent contact with Al Malik through his assistant Matthew Grimes, and was able to set up phone calls for U.A.E. officials with the President-elect, gave the officials information about who Trump planned to appoint to high level cabinet positions, and even flew to the U.A.E. to meet them.
After the meeting, Al Malik had reported the officials were pleased and that he and Grimes “will work with the guys here and in Saudi.” Grimes replied that he was “110% committed” to helping.
Al Malik worked with Emirati officials to formulate a plan for the first 100 days, six months, one year, and four years of the Trump administration, creating a “wish list” of policy positions that would benefit the U.A.E.
Just weeks after the inauguration, according to the indictment, Barrack told Al Malik he had briefed the President and arranged communications with a U.A.E. official.
Barrack said he was able to get the White House to “elevate” then-Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud “for protocol purposes” and “program[med]” two senior US officials to this regard.
Al Malik later told Barrack he had another U.A.E. official on which to brief him. “Then the big guy” he wrote, according to the indictment. “They have high expectations from us. They love you.”
The PIC is the official yet somewhat opaque vehicle through which the inaugurations of newly elected U.S. Presidents are recognized, celebrated, and executed for the public, media outlets, entertainers, and mega-donors alike. This makes the PIC a keen target for back-channeled foreign influence.
After an election but before a president is sworn in, a PIC is established as a one-off non-profit through which vendors, venues, and staff hired for events can conduct the business of inaugurating. Contribution-funded, the PIC is ostensibly accountable to the public through FEC fillings, tax returns, and other documents.
In practice, however, the PIC largely relies on an honor system with scant legal remedies for abuse. Each iteration is run like a piggybank, more or less, stuffed with contributions of up to $1 million a-pop from the likes of Sheldon Adelson, AT&T, and Howard Lutnick to be dispersed at the incoming administration’s relative discretion.
Barrack, as PIC chairman, was Trump’s proxy for executive decisions on inauguration-related matters.
“I must’ve alienated the president-elect,” Barrack joked during a previously unheard interview captured by Race to 58’s crew.
“Because he called his brilliant friends and associates and appointed them to various positions within his cabinet. And then he looked around and said, ‘Who do I have who can party plan?’”
In her 2020 memoir Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady, the publication of which Bill Barr’s justice department unsuccessfully attempted to halt, Wolkoff describes the PIC’s chain-of-command:
“On the right side of the org chart, my name was at the top, right next to… Mark Burnett!” Wolkoff writes.
“We were listed as special advisers for the inaugural planning. Underneath our names there was an entertainment committee listed, packed with heavy hitters, top execs from Sony, [Madison Square Garden], and Imagine Entertainment.”
Following Trump’s upset victory, Burnett’s specter materialized with grandiose plans for an inaugural bonanza, replete with a parade up Fifth Avenue and a helicopter chariot for Trump from Manhattan to D.C.
As those plans fizzled, Burnett officially stepped in for a last-minute “Hail Mary” to book elusive A-list talent who understandably wanted nothing to do with the “hatred, division, and misogyny” Burnett had previously tried to distance himself from in the months prior when most pollsters had predicted a landslide victory by Hillary Clinton and Burnett claimed to have “never been a supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy.”
Heading up the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee alongside Wolkoff and Burnett was Tiny Horse co-founder Jonathan Reynaga.
Before Tiny Horse and his duties as a senior adviser to the PIC, Reynaga served as public policy and communications adviser to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, co-founded Blair’s Rwanda-based Africa Governance Initiative, and consulted for Peruvian presidential candidate Julio Guzmán.
Reynaga failed to respond to multiple requests for comment seeking to clarify the nature of these roles, or whether their overlapping nature presented conflicts of interest.
Concurrent duties found Reynaga deftly alternating between his commercial Tiny Horse (.com) and nonprofit 58PIC2017 (.org) email accounts, according to internal communications.
This precarious balance of competing interests is illuminated by a Jan. 6, 2017, email drafted by then-Tiny Horse vice president of creative development CJ Yu for his boss Reynaga.
Tiny Horse needed PIC Chairman Barrack’s stamp of approval.
Yu's email reads:
@Jon — below is a draft of an email for you to send Chairman Barrack about the docu opportunity...
A close friend of ours, Sadoux Kim just contacted us this afternoon, as Amazon is interested in potentially paying for the ‘rights’ and pay for the cost to produce a documentary series...
This deal would be run through Conrad Riggs’s team, who, as you might expect, the president-elect will know as well.
The email reiterates the tentative terms to which, according to Reynaga, Amazon Studios had tentatively agreed: $600,000 for the rights to produce and distribute the series, with additional production costs covered by Amazon from a separate budget.
Amazon had also tentatively agreed to contractual non-disparagement of the First Family, and according to Reynaga’s email, would be “… willing to let the PIC/administration review and make meaningful notes on the cut, just not have final editorial authority.”
“We want to be able to give them a quick ‘Yes, let’s discuss this further as we may be able to make this happen’ or a polite pass,” the email concludes. “What do you think?”
According to a follow-up email, again largely drafted by Yu for Reynaga, and then sent to Barrack on January 13 with Tiny Horse executives cc’d:
Thank you for helping us get the funding in place to cover the physical production for the documentary project. We’re thrilled to bring in the producers and crew to start rolling!
Further to my conversation with you about Amazon, earlier today they pulled back because they wanted to control the optics to the ‘Hollywood Community’ about the documentary being ‘fair and balanced.’ They wanted to bring in a liberal ‘Vanity EP’ to partner with us on it, but (before we could even give feedback on this strategy), they were not able to find anyone willing to step into the project to play that role alongside us, and therefore their offer fell apart. They were a little embarrassed but keen to discuss distribution of [the] documentary we now propose to make.
Two documents, also prepared by Yu, were attached: a pared-down line-item budget for “physical production only” and an outline of “budget assumptions to go with the line-items for additional context.”
The projected budget totals $253,587, framed in the email to Barrack as the bare minimum needed to cover the cost of “principal photography” over inauguration week.
The plan: lure “a distributor, like Netflix/Amazon, who can help pay for the post-production,” after the fact.
As he refuses to comment on the matter, it remains unclear whether or how Barrack helped secure financing for Race to 58 after Amazon exited negotiations with Tiny Horse, or whether such assistance may have conflicted with Barrack’s duties as PIC chair.
Trouble was by January 13, the date of Reynaga’s email to Barrack, negotiations with Amazon Studios had disintegrated as quickly as they had appeared.
This left Tiny Horse in the lurch, having had already booked executive producer Karen V. Kraft to oversee the Race to 58 shoot in D.C. Kraft did not repsond to multiple requests for comment.
By the time Amazon had pulled out of negotiations with Tiny Horse, Kraft had already wrangled a crew on stand-by and secured the necessary gear. Most were U.S. military vets Kraft knew through her work as board chair, co-executive director, and founding member of Veterans in Media & Entertainment (VME).
According to its website, VME is a California 501(c)3 nonprofit that networks current and former military personnel working in film and television whose members have worked on American Sniper, Grey’s Anatomy, FBI, Tenet, Army Wives, Seal Team, and many others.
VME's impact on the entertainment industry is reflected in its board, which, alongside Kraft, includes: Anita Noe, executive director of talent acquisition at Lionsgate Entertainment; L.A. County's Military & Veteran Affairs Deputy Chief Director Stephanie Stone; and Mark Lennon, head of government affairs at Apple who last November met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to bless the company's agreement with Ukraine's Ministry of Digital Transformation.
A former U.S. Army Reserve Officer and veteran of the entertainment industry, according to emails, Kraft had been workshopping concepts with Tiny Horse for a series about the 2017 inauguration since at least mid-December 2016.
As mentioned, Race to 58 appears to have been pitched to Amazon sans accompanying sales materials.
There’s no indication Tiny Horse cut together a flashy teaser reel to evoke the desired look-and-feel of the series, nor a Power Point-like sales deck outlining its synopsis, key subjects, format, and structure. So it’s curious that Tiny Horse developed a pitch with Kraft largely identical to Race to 58, as it’s described in internal emails. They even finalized a smartly designed deck for it weeks before Tiny Horse engaged Amazon.
Kraft submitted one of three separate yet similar treatments for a behind-the-scenes series or film about the 2017 inauguration, included in a 19-page pitch deck attached to internal Tiny Horse emails from mid-December 2016.
Each page of the deck, titled “Inaugural Documentary Treatment,” prominently features the logo for SWW Creative LLC, the New York-based events and creative agency christened with the acronym of its founder: Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, whom the Trump family had charged with overseeing the PIC's most high-profile events.
Yet an exhaustive review of correspondence between Tiny Horse, Kraft, PIC staffers, the crew in D.C., and others close to the production finds that the breakneck pace at which these preliminary treatments evolved into a green-lit production left little time nor room for meaningful creative or budgetary input from Wolkoff or her SWW agency.
Tiny Horse spearheaded and executed virtually every facet of Race to 58 as it was pitched to Amazon — and ultimately filmed over inauguration week.
A Dec. 26, 2016, email from Tiny Horse co-founder and PIC special adviser Jonathan Reynaga underscores his team’s early command of the project, citing previous collaborations with Kraft as evidence of her ability to navigate the chaos of inauguration week.
The Inaugural Documentary Treatment pitch deck attached to Reynaga’s Dec. 26 email credits two of its three included treatments — “Forward Together” and “A Tribute to Democracy” — to Laura Waters Hinson.
An assistant professor at American University’s School of Communication, Hinson’s film about war-torn Rwanda’s reconciliation movement, As We Forgive, received a 2008 Student Academy Award for Best Documentary. She did not respond to request for comment.
Both of Hinson's treatments are straight-forward in their explicitly proposed Cinéma vérité approach, the French documentary style that translates to “truthful cinema” defined by its improvised, strictly unobtrusive documentation of subjects.
“Forward Together” proposes shadowing President-elect Trump and his team over four weeks as they “work around the clock to pull off the impossible: the nation’s biggest celebration with just two months of prep time.” Hinson proposes an onscreen “countdown motif,” ticking away through the zero hour, as a framing device to build suspense for the viewer.
“The final payoff will transpire the moment President Trump lays his hand on the Bible and is sworn into the world’s most powerful political office on January 20th,” the pitch concludes.
Hinson's second treatment, “A Tribute to Democracy,” tracks with similar language as “Forward Together.” It also relies on a countdown motif but in the format of a one-hour documentary film.
“On a deeper level,” its synopsis concludes, “the film will ponder questions such as: What did the election mean to Trump voters? And why is Trump the man to make America great again?”
Then, of course, the money shot: Trump. Hand. Bible. FADE TO BLACK.
The third treatment, “The Art of the Inauguration: a Billion Details,” is credited to Kraft and her director-producer partner Rebecca Murga who envision a feature-length documentary. It tracks largely the same as Hinson's and even closer to what the pair produced through Tiny Horse's Race to 58.
Bios included for Kraft and Murga highlight prior military service, with Murga’s listing deployments to Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan (the latter an attachment with U.S. Navy SEALS) during her service as a Captain and Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army.
Aside from her work with VME Kraft is the proprietor of L.A.-based documentary production company Hero Media Group LLC. It was through Hero Media Group that Kraft ultimately billed Tiny Horse for at least some of her services, according to an invoice for $3,575 on Feb. 3, 2017.
The invoice covers ten days of work in D.C., most of which is allocated to a camera operator who captured the historic festivities with high-end Sony and Red Digital Cinema cameras.
Detailed on the invoice are services rendered by Kraft’s Hero Media Group to Tiny Horse, from January 16 through January 25. This included the filming of all major inaugural events (some of which excluded press), such as the cabinet dinner, candlelight dinner, Inauguration Day and, of course, Barrack’s January 17 Chairman’s Global Dinner.
The invoice includes a January 23 line item, billed to Tiny Horse at a day rate of $400 for an “editor with REDCINE-X to cut promo reel for Tom Barrack review.” (REDCINE-X is software required to offload and transcode digital footage from proprietary Red Digital Cinema systems).
Due to the declination of comment from the parties involved, it remains unclear why Tiny Horse and Kraft’s Hero Media Group so urgently cut a promo reel for Barrack’s consideration — or whether such a review conflicted with his duties as chairman of the 58th PIC.
Parties close to the production, who requested anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements and fears of reprisal, confirmed that a promo reel matching the description in Hero Media Group’s invoice was cut onsite and delivered to Barrack shortly before the crew left D.C.
Total runtime of the reel received by Barrack is one minute and thirty-nine seconds, a veritable drop in the bucket relative to the dozens of hours filmed over the week that have yet to see the light of day.
In the days leading up to the shoot in D.C., the crew Tiny Horse had booked were preparing to head out — operating under the auspices that the production was backed by Amazon Studios, despite them having pulled out by this point.
“Everybody, we are super close we should know something very soon,” according to a January 11 group text from Race to 58 director of photography Jon Chia to other prospective crew members.
“We had a contract last time and they did it so we are literally waiting on Amazon [to] transfer the money and hopefully were ago [sic],” Chia wrote to reassure jittery freelancers that payment was imminent.
“I just got the word that Amazon wants to win an Emmy with this.”
“Show me the money 🤑. And I’ll show you an Emmy 🙃,” the response came from a prospective senior member of the crew who later that day bailed on the production, dubious it had been green-lit.
“Guess who’s head of the presidential inauguration ceremony[?]” Chia offered as a retort.
“You,” the would-be crew-member replied in jest.
“The CEO of Miramax,” Chia volleyed, erroneously conflating Barrack’s former status as chairman of post-Harvey Weinstein Miramax after acquiring it from Disney.
“He runs a $100 billion real estate fund, too,” Chia replies referencing Barrack’s real estate investment firm Colony Capital and its subsidiaries.
The group text is between about ten potential crew members, many of whom arrived in D.C. starting on January 13, the same day Amazon walked back from a deal with Tiny Horse according to Reynaga’s aforementioned email to PIC Chairman Barrack.
Included in the group text was Eric Rosas, the location sound recordist who provided The Knows with his audio files that serve as the backbone of this investigation and is an executive producer of the corresponding Seven Days in January podcast.
Rosas, a first-generation American whose success in Los Angeles as a producer and audio engineer was entirely self-made, said he was initially approached for Race to 58 by Chia and thought of it as nothing more than just another gig.
In line with the various treatments pitched by Kraft, Murga, and Hinson, one option was “a reality series, or like a docu-series about the staff members who are assembling the inauguration,” Rosas said. “We honestly went kind of both routes because we would follow around some of our main characters and kind of do like a daily life deal with them.”
“Politically I’m pretty neutral, I didn’t take any sides. Honestly, I probably didn’t even vote that election,” Rosas said when asked about his political beliefs.
Rosas confirmed the shoot was touch-and-go, remaining unconfirmed until hours before his flight to D.C.
“I remember I sent in my picture for the Secret Service,” Rosas said. “The only way I could go is if I got this background check, and honestly, I think that was about it.”
Rosas said he received no term sheet, contract, nor non-disclosure agreement aside from an NDA emailed to him that included the name of a cinematographer who had earlier in the group text expressed doubt about receiving timely payment. Rosas said he disregarded this paperwork and was not sent a revision.
“The producer [Kraft] said that she had some documents that I had signed, and we asked her about them,” Rosas said, adding that she never produced the requested documents but they remain on good terms.
“She was honestly, like, the team mom. She even bought me a suit just so I [could] go work at these parties.”
Rosas insisted the only payment he received was his standard $1,800 deposit, paid upfront before the crew reached D.C. He said approximately $2,250 remains outstanding for the shoot, on which he said at times he also filled in as a camera operator.
Despite years of follow-up requests via email, text, and calls to Kraft, Tiny Horse, and others involved in the production, Rosas said he did not receive a penny more.
“The specific words I was told when I was trying to retrieve my video files,” Rosas said, “was that ‘This project will never see the light of day.’ And they told me: ‘Your files are archived. They’re with Tiny Horse.
“I contacted Tiny Horse for four years, and each time they told me ‘You gotta sue John Chia,’ and that ‘We don’t have your files.’ The producers told me they gave up their files to Tiny Horse, and that they cannot get ahold of them.
“And then when I saw that Tiny Horse was sold for a lot of money, I was like, Did they also sell all the content that’s archived? You know, Did that add some value to them?”
Travel agency receipts reviewed by The Knows show an Alaskan Airlines flight booked through a travel agency in Encino, CA, for Chia and Rosas and billed to Tiny Horse for the afternoon of January 13.
A corresponding credit card authorization form lists a crew of six, checking in January 13 to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Rosas, Chia, Kraft, and Murga (Kraft’s frequent collaborator and co-author of their “The Art of the Inauguration: a Billion Details” treatment for Tiny Horse) are listed on a credit card authorization form for D.C.’s Trump International Hotel, with a check-in date of January 13.
Also listed as guests on the form are crew members Annalee Walton, a filmmaker and producer, and producer Cori Diamond. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Diamond’s LinkedIn lists work in January 2017 as a producer on “Race to 58 (Inauguration Documentary)” for the nonexistent “SWW Productions”.
In March 2021, Diamond was hired by Amazon Studios as a development and casting producer where, also according to her LinkedIn, Diamond remains employed as of press time.
Comedian and camera operator Martin Amini, Meghan Wood, and fashion photographer Andres Reynaga, younger brother of Tiny Horse co-founder and PIC special adviser Jonathan Reynaga, were also listed as crew members on a call sheet for the production. Neither Amini, Wood, nor the Reynagas responded to requests for comment.
Individuals close to Race to 58’s production claimed Diamond and CJ Yu — the development executive hired by Amazon from Tiny Horse in July 2017 after negotiations for Race to 58 disintegrated — have been close friends for years.
A review of Diamond and Yu’s social media profiles seemed to confirm this claim, with the pair frequently tagging one another in posts depicting them both in attendance at several gatherings.
Subsequent Trump International Hotel receipts list January 16 as the crew’s date of departure, after which they relocated to a different (non-Trump) hotel for the remainder of the shoot.
The reason for the crew’s moving hotels mid-shoot, according those close to the situation, was that the production had been given a “bro rate” at Trump International until exponentially increasing rates ahead of inauguration saw them displaced by higher-paying guests.
The 58th PIC’s alleged misuse of inaugural funds to benefit the Trump Organization and associated entities, including the since-sold Trump International Hotel, was a main point of contention in D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s recently settled civil suit.
In it Racine alleged that the Trump Organization, 2017 PIC, and related entities acted in ways that unjustly enriched Trump and his family. Future installments of The Knows’ serialized investigation and corresponding Seven Days In January podcast are dedicated to unraveling these discrepancies.
In a December 2020 interview Racine said, “Stephanie [Winston] Wolkoff sent emails, including to Ivanka Trump, raising alarms about the prices that the Trump Hotel was seeking to charge the inauguration committee. Interestingly, Ms. Trump does not cite any email after Ms. Wolkoff’s red alarm email saying, ‘Oh my goodness, this shouldn’t not be charged at these high levels.’ And in fact, as we know, the foundation was charged at extraordinarily high levels.”
Several members of Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, several of whom have submitted depositions or testimony under oath in other legal cases, remain subject to many ongoing and overlapping criminal investigations.
Amid the interlocking tentacles of these investigations is the ever-evolving threat of counterintelligence subterfuge to obfuscate illicit foreign influence that’s seeped deeply through the pores of Western democracy in attempts to erode geopolitical foundations largely taken for granted.
In 2019 Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York brusquely subpoenaed all documents related to the 2017 PIC and any representatives of “U.S. federal, state, or local domestic” or foreign governments “discussing, offering, or providing, or being solicited to discuss, offer, or provide, any present or emolument of any kind whatever on or after November 8, 2016 to (a) Donald Trump or his Business Interests; (b) Trump Organization; (c) Jared Kushner or his Business Interests; (d) Ivanka Trump or her Business Interests; or (e) the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.”
Both Mark Burnett and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, decision-makers tasked with overseeing the PIC, were conspicuously absent from the dozens of PIC-adjacent subpoenas Mueller issued related to this investigation.
It remains unknown whether the 2019 subpoena or myriad federal investigations touching on the 2017 inauguration have uncovered any of the tens of thousands of documents related to Tiny Horse and Inaugural Productions, a company run by long-time Burnett associates Chris Wagner and Jim Roush.
This almost unfathomable spectrum of documents stretches across legal fees, union, stage, broadcast, cable, and trademark licensing, talent agreements, in-kind contributions, PACs, corporate partners, etc., which The Knows will dissect in its upcoming reportage. All undoubtedly further complicated by the sprawling reach and innumerable value of the Trump brand.
What’s crystal clear, however, is the vast majority of names, companies, budgets, and production decisions discussed above have thus far remained unknown to the public.
The scant published reporting that exists regarding the multiple PIC-led productions often regurgitates information from a flawed February 2018 report by Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel in the New York Times.
Leading up to the article’s publication, according to Wolkoff’s memoir, RNC and 58th PIC budget director Heather D. Martin called Haberman “a friendly,” a reporter who would write the story Wolkoff said “the PIC wanted the world to see” and ended up making Wolkoff the story. In June 2019, Martin was appointed CFO of the Presidential Office of Administration.
Indicative of the thick, shadowy web of alliances that enveloped the 58th PIC is Martin’s inclusion on a March 20, 2017, post-production email from Tiny Horse co-founder and managing partner Melanie Capacia Johnson. Its subject line is “Re: PIC Broadcast Budget.”
(To be clear: the PIC’s broadcast budget was an entirely separate tranche of deals and monies commiserate with the complexities of live global broadcast rights amid the tightest security imaginable, completely separate from Race to 58.)
Johnson’s email is addressed to Martin and Douglas Ammerman, treasurer of the 58th PIC, and is in response to a March 15 email from Ammerman about wrapping up accounting matters with the PIC. Johnson’s Tiny Horse colleagues Jonathan Reynaga and Bobbie Yunis are also cc’d.
Amid exchanges explored in future installments of this investigation, Johnson’s email to Martin and Ammerman and the attached accounting documents read like some twisted business affairs executive’s game of Three-card Monte, and will surely make one’s head hurt if not inclined to maths.
In this instance, Johnson attached the “final cost report for the PIC Broadcast budget” via her Tiny Horse email address, noting, “We are digitizing all the back-up and I will have a drive sent to you as soon as all the loose invoices have been collected.
“In the mean time [sic] the top line shows an underage of $993,947.00 so there will be no additional billings… Also, we have yet to receive our Travel Chargebacks check you said was sent a few weeks back for Invoice PIC — 005 for $227,365.94,” Johnson's email concludes.
Two days later, PIC Budget Director Martin replied with her reconciliation, acknowledging the overpayment.
Based on the current report it appears we are owed back a balance of $227,511. Simply put, we wired [sic] transferred thus far a total of $25,843,509. Based on the invoices, we paid a supervisory fee of [$]1,620,000 allocated to SWW and $24,223,509 allocated to production.
That leaves an overage paid of $227,511 because the final total is actually $23,995[,]998. I have put a stop payment on the check we issued for travel expenses totaling [$]227,365.94 at their request because the check has not been received in the mail.
Ironically, this is the amount $-145.06, that they would owe us back. It would be easiest to just call the differences a wash and not re-issue the check if they are agreeable.
Let me know how you want to proceed.
In short, the emails show that the PIC overpaid for broadcast production services from Roush and Wagner’s Inaugural Productions, passed through WIS, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars — seeming to disprove Haberman and Vogel’s reporting that WIS Media Partners was the ultimate beneficiary.
Haberman and Vogel’s New York Times report omits Tiny Horse entirely. It also fails to mention Tiny Horse’s Johnson, who sent the above bookkeeping email to the PIC’s Martin and Ammerman. In early 2022, Johnson was elevated to president of Neo Studios backed by Tiny Horse and Team Whistle acquirer Eleven Sports.
The report also omits co-founders Kyle Young and Owen Leimbach, whose LinkedIn profiles list their current executive roles assumed at Team Whistle following the company’s 2020 acquisition of Tiny Horse. Young and Leimbach were instrumental to the company and in the planning, budgeting, and green-lighting of Race to 58.
Many of the allusions made in the reporting center around Wolkoff’s friendship with the First Lady and her association with WIS Media Partners — short for Who Is She? — a partnership hurriedly spun up by Tiny Horse executives with SWW Creative agency in the weeks leading up to the inauguration to lock down big-ticket producers and performers under a single entity more flexible than the PIC.
The 58th PIC spent 60 percent of its $103.9 million in expenditures on its top-five vendors. PIC tax returns name only these five, leaving questions around the unnamed vendors that made up the remaining 40 percent. The PIC’s largest recipient was WIS Media Partners, despite Roush and Wagner’s Inaugural Productions as ultimately receiving the vast majority of the $25.8 million passed through WIS.
Wolkoff has since disproved and undermined wide swaths of the New York Times’ initial reporting in follow-ups and her memoir, which centers around a single $26 million payment passed through WIS Media Partners. While this amount was first framed by the Times as a payment to Wolkoff, it was far from the $500,000 she actually received for her services.
Haberman and Vogel’s report includes a single mention of a “documentary,” i.e., Race to 58. It makes no mention of Amazon’s pursuit of the project nor Barrack’s role in approving key terms of the production, nor the crew associated with Karen Kraft's Veterans in Media & Entertainment organization.
Likewise overlooked is Tiny Horse’s involvement as a nearly equal principal in WIS Media Partners; instead, Haberman and Vogel’s only mention of Tiny Horse co-founder Jonathan Reynaga credits him as “Wolkoff’s friend,” and (in a later piece by Haberman and Ben Protess) a “partner,” vaguely acknowledging the “documentary,” i.e., Race to 58, in the final sentence. No mention is made of the other Tiny Horse principals’ involvement with WIS.
In reality, WIS was formed by Tiny Horse executives as what entertainment and other industry powerbrokers would term a “pass-through,” primarily to Inaugural Productions according to tax documents, through which the business of various complex productions and deals surrounding the inauguration could be conducted.
Transactions entailed the brokering of complex terms associated with separate broadcast, cable, stage, and music licensing arrangements that can ultimately stem from a single high-profile event. (For example, the cascading licensing, rights, and fee agreements brokered for A-list inaugural performers like Toby Keith.)
It remains unclear whether any investigative or enforcement arm of the U.S. Government has knowledge of or even inquired about the circumstances surrounding Race to 58, let alone the magnitudes-greater details of murky budgets and backchannel deals.
At stake is whether and how these monies could and may have been leveraged against deals involving known and alleged illicit foreign influence that has already resulted in multiple and ongoing investigations, indictments, convictions, plea deals, and untold legal wrangling for key Trump campaign and administration figures who were captured on tape for Race to 58.
In May the F.T.C. broke enforcement gridlock with the appointment of its fifth commissioner and third Democrat. Lina Khan, its controversial Biden-appointed chair, has her best shot yet of enacting whatever proposed policies have so perturbed the likes of Amazon and Facebook.
Both Facebook and Amazon unsuccessfully attempted to have Khan recused from antitrust investigations because of what they perceived to be prior activism. A brand of “hipster antitrust” some ironically associate with high-brow concerns such as the antimonopoly New Brandeis Movement.
On January 24, less than two months before Amazon and MGM Studios declared a successful $8.45 billion merger in spite of the F.T.C.’s insistence that it can continue to investigate matters at its sole discretion, The Knows requested comment from MGM Studios on it or its worldwide television chair Mark Burnett’s knowledge of any matters related to the production of a reality TV series documenting Trump’s 2017 presidential inaugural committee.
“In response to your inquiry, confirming neither Mr. Burnett nor MGM has any knowledge of the production you reference,” a spokeswoman for MGM replied the same day.
“Your follow-up questions are a series of meandering conspiratorial musings which have no basis in fact,” the spokeswoman continued.
Documents and contracts with long-time Burnett associates directly referencing the documentary and a careful review of audio captured by Rosas contradicts MGM’s on-the-record assessment of Burnett’s knowledge of Race to 58. And, potentially, Tiny Horse’s ultimately abortive deal with Amazon through Tiny Horse and Burnett associate CJ Yu.
Crosstalk between Wolkoff and Tiny Horse business affair executive Brandon Arolfo on the evening of Jan. 19, 2017, reveals a pivotal moment, with Wolkoff telling Burnett over the phone she was sending Arolfo to receive him:
“I gotta go, I gotta meet Mark Burnett — excuse me,” says Arolfo in jest, as he and Wolkoff chuckle over the absurdity of the situation.
As Arolfo makes his way out to meet Burnett, the microphone picks up his awkward concern that the “groundling” crew members might be spotted wearing jeans.
Arolfo — whose work as head of PBS Digital Studios saw him collaborate with Tiny Horse for their 2020 Daytime Emmy-winning LGBTQ+ Prideland special — did not respond to requests for comment after initially answering the phone and acknowledging his involvement in Race to 58’s production.