Federal prosecutors in New York are reportedly investigating whether President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee misspent portions of the over $100 million raised from private donations.
“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,” The Wall Street Journal reported, based on “people familiar with the matter.”
According to The Journal, if donations were made in exchange for political favors that could be deemed a violation of federal public corruption laws.
Additionally, diverting funds from a nonprofit could also violate the law.
The investigation is said to arise, in part, out of materials seized by federal investigators from Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen in April.
Among the recorded conversations obtained was one between 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 Journal reported.
The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee publicly identified how $61 million of the $103 million spent in tax filings, according to the paper.
FEC filings show among the top donors were Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co.
The Journal found no indication these donors were under investigation.
Sources have told the paper that Richard Gates, a former Trump campaign aide who served as deputy chairman of the inaugural committee, has been questioned by federal investigators about the committee’s spending and donors.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office obtained a guilty plea from Gates in February in relation to overseas political consulting work he did with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort before the 2016 presidential race.
The inaugural committee was headed by Thomas Barrack, Jr., who is a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Trump.
“There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by the special counsel’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter,” The Journal reported.
The committee released a statement in response to the paper’s story, saying, “The PIC’s finances were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. Moreover, the inauguration’s accounting was provided both to the Federal Election Commission and the IRS in compliance with all laws and regulations.”
The statement continued: “These funds were raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors. The names of donors were provided to the FEC and have been public for nearly two years and those donors were vetted in accordance with the law and no improprieties have been found regarding the vetting of those donors.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday night, “With the inaugural committee, that doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady.”
“The biggest thing the president did in his engagement in the inauguration was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The president was focused on the transition during that time,” she added.
Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke reported on “America’s Newsroom” on Friday, that a White House official told him the administration views the investigation, “Sort of like what’s been happening with the 9th Circuit, which has been sort of trying to disrupt the Trump legal agenda out West, you’re seeing the Manhattan office, the Southern District of New York, now apparently targeting the Trump orbit here back East.”
Republicans have often accused former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of engaging in a “pay-for-play” arrangement with private donors in relation to the Clinton Foundation.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported this week that the foundation’s revenue hit a 15-year low after the 2016 presidential election.
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