Federal Investigators Now Looking Into Donations To Trump Inaugural Committee

Federal prosecutors are investigating the Trump Inaugural Committee, adding to the long list of the President's legal troubles.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the Trump Inaugural Committee amid allegations that it misspent funds and sold access to the President:

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.

The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.

Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.

The investigation represents another potential legal threat to people who are or were in Mr. Trump’s orbit. Their business dealings and activities during and since the campaign have led to a number of indictments and guilty pleas. Many of the president’s biggest campaign backers were involved in the inaugural fund.

The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings, according to people familiar with the matter.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

The inaugural committee hasn’t been asked for records or been contacted by prosecutors, according to a lawyer close to the matter, who said: “We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists.”

The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.

The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. President Trump’s funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more—including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson,

AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co. , according to Federal Election Commission filings. There is no sign that those three donors are under investigation.

Federal prosecutors have asked Richard Gates, a former campaign aide who served as the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman, about the fund’s spending and its donors, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Gates has met with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and the special counsel’s office.

(…)

Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Haney was asked for documents related to his correspondence with members of the committee, meeting calendars and paperwork for the donation, the person said. A loan application by Mr. Haney’s company is still pending at the Energy Department.

A lawyer for Mr. Haney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on the investigation. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As a preliminary matter, of course, it’s worth noting that the fact that an investigation has been opened does not mean that there was any wrongdoing in connection with the committee. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that this investigation began in the wake of the raid earlier this year on the home and offices of former Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who has since pled guilty to a number of charges related both to his personal business and the work he did for Trump during the course of the campaign, specifically including the negotiation of agreements with a porn star and a Playboy model to buy their silence in the weeks before the 2016 Presidential campaign. Among the documents recovered during the execution of those search warrants, apparently, were documents related to the Inaugural Committee and its donors that at least suggest that there may be something worth investigating. It’s also likely that prosecutors received information regarding the committee from Michael Cohen himself during the more than 70 hours of talks he has had with prosecutors in New York and Washington since pleading guilty back in August.

It’s also worth noting that Inaugural Committees have long been problematic when it comes to the money that they collect to pay for the various events, entertainment and otherwise, that take place during and around the time of  President’s Inauguration. Unlike campaigns for Federal office, for example, these entities are generally not regulated by the Federal government except to the extent that they are non-profit organizations subject to the same Internal Revenue Service and other regulations that cover the operation of non-profit organizations. Because of that, and because of the large sums of money that these committees raise, there has always been a kind of taint about these committees to begin with. None of this is to excuse the possibility of wrongdoing here, of course, but it’s worth noting that it hasn’t been uncommon in the past for Inaugural Committees to come under investigation only to have those investigations end without anything significant resulting.

In this case, though, the allegations against the committee are fairly serious. They include not only the misuse of funds, which is a fairly serious allegation within the context of non-profit organizations generally speaking. Additionally, the fact that the committee may have taken in large sums of money from corporations and foreign sources hoping to gain access to the President or top policymakers who have the President’s ear. This includes alleged payments from officials in the Middle East from nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. What, exactly, did these entities get in exchange for their generous contributions to the Inaugural Committee? Clearly, this is something worth investigating.

Former Nixon attorney John Dean put it this way on Twitter:

The news is getting worse for the President by the day.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As a preliminary matter, of course, it’s worth noting that the fact that an investigation has been opened does not mean that there was any wrongdoing in connection with the committee.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA… Doug, I just love your droll sense of humor.

    Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project,

    Yep 2 totally unrelated facts, nothing to see here, nothing at all, just ignore that “For Sale” sign at the door to the Inaugural Ball.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    This is not a prediction, merely an observation, but this falls right into the type of thing that can make its way back to Trump. Recently, on another thread, I commented about Trump’s miser soul and how his instinctive reaction to grab any money that papers in front of him has led to one problem after another in his life. I don’t know how deep they will dig but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a bunch of incidents like Mar a Lago billing $300K for $30K worth of flowers, and then getting nailed for trying to clean up the receipts afterward.

  3. Kathy says:

    Don’t you love the smell of cooking goose in the morning?

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Things currently under investigation:
    Dennison Organization
    Dennison Foundation
    Dennison Campaign
    Dennison Transition
    Dennison Inaugural
    Dennison White House
    I believe this is what you would call “soup to nuts”.
    A common refrain during the campaign was that if Clinton were to be elected there would be endless investigations. The difference is that Clinton investigations, about faux crimes, would have been by Republican hacks in Congress for purely partisan purposes. Individual-1 is being investigated by professional, non-partisan, law enforcement for actual, serious, crimes.

  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Guiliani on felonies committed to help ensure the election of Individual-1:

    “Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed… This was not a big crime…I think in two weeks they’ll start with parking tickets that haven’t been paid.”

  6. Kathy says:

    BTW, state and federal law enforcement, as well as the IRS, will have to account as to why they let Trump skate for so many years of illegal activity.

    And they can’t claim the Whoopi Goldberg principle: celebrities are above the law.

  7. Franklin says:

    Doesn’t anyone think that the funniest thing here is how much money was wasted for a ceremony that hardly anyone attended?

  8. Jen says:

    @Kathy: I’ve been wondering about that myself.

    How do they reconcile that?

  9. de stijl says:
  10. de stijl says:

    @Franklin:

    What? It was the largest crowd in the history of inaugurations! Check the pictures!

    Seriously, Sean Spicer was doomed the moment he peddled that alternative fact and that was his very first press briefing.

    It did give us Melissa McCarthy’s uncanny take on Spicer on SNL though which she killed.

  11. Teve says:

    Buncha russian money in the inauguration too.

    If the trump people did x, there were crimes involved, for any value of x.

  12. Teve says:

    You know how trump used to complain about obama’s vacations, and now takes 4x as many? Well I just read that trump’s inauguration cost over twice what obama’s cost.

    The guy couldn’t buy a cup of coffee at a diner without somebody getting scammed.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve:

    Well I just read that trump’s inauguration cost over twice what obama’s cost.

    And was half the size. But they spent all the money.

    The campaign, the transition, the insuguration, and the administration are all under investigation. Remember “no drama” Obama?

  14. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    I’ll repeat something I tried to explain early on to Dennison’s supporters: the issue is not that there were meetings with Russians or that there was Russian money, but rather that a lot of people in Trump’s campaign, transition, and White House teams either omitted reporting such meetings, or outright lied about them.

    If they’d omitted and lied about meetings with other people from other countries, I’d buy the notion they didn’t consider such meeting important. as it is, they only lied about Russia, ergo they were all probably hiding something. Not necessarily something criminal, though that’s the way to bet, but it might have been just something embarrassing.

    We’re finding out which it was.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy:

    they only lied about Russia

    Flynn lied about Turkey. Not sure but Manafort might have lied about Ukraine tho that was the Russian backed president of Ukraine so probably a difference without distinction.

  16. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan: Wow, things are happening fast. I make a comment in the morning, and what rolls out in the afternoon?

    The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

    During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    If they’d omitted and lied about meetings with other people from other countries

    I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I once had to get government clearance for something.* There was no question about omitting anything. It was repeatedly stressed that everything, no matter how small, had to be reported. And to be honest, it was not a big deal, just tedious. I have lived in a lot of different houses and apartments and I had to document them all. I hadn’t travelled outside the country so much back then, so that was easier for me. Companies I had worked with was harder because I was a consultant, but I got them all. It’s not that hard. And in this day of electronic calendars and email and diaries I find it really hard to believe that you accidentally forgot something that would literally pop up if you searched your Outlook for “Russia” or “Russian”. And I don’t care how busy he was, he had staff that could easily have gone through his calendar, expense reports and visa applications in a couple of weeks and not missed a single thing.

    *I wanted a contractors ID while working at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing so I could go to the bathroom alone. Literally.

  18. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    but I once had to get government clearance for something.*

    That was a tedious encounter with a clearly bored and unengaged drone. The address history verification part was ludicrous.

    “It was three blocks east of Snelling, and two blocks south of Hamline.”

    “So, you don’t recall your street address, then? And you have no mail from that time period?”

    “No. I cannot recall the address. It’s five, six blocks from the St. Clair Broiler. I could walk us there and point out the house I’ve lived in 15 years ago. I lived there for six months when I was 20.”

    He was nonplussed with my response.

    *I wanted a contractors ID while working at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing so I could go to the bathroom alone. Literally.

    I feel you. I’m weird about public bathrooms. I want a door that locks.