Federal prosecutors probing Trump inauguration spending: Wall Street Journal

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether US President Donald Trump's inaugural committee misspent some of the funds it raised, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The probe into the inaugural committee comes as US President Donald Trump and his White House are already facing investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia and other issues.
The probe into the inaugural committee comes as US President Donald Trump and his White House are already facing investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia and other issues.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Federal prosecutors are investigating whether United States President Donald Trump's inaugural committee misspent some of the record US$107 million (S$146 million) it raised from donors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday (Dec 13), citing people it said were familiar with the matter.

The early-stage investigation by the Manhattan US attorney's office is examining whether some of the committee's donors gave money in exchange for policy concessions, influencing administration positions or access to the incoming administration, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for the Manhattan US attorney's office declined to comment.

Asked about the report, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Reuters the President was not involved in his inaugural committee.

"The last thing a President-elect has time for is inaugural fund raising," he said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders also said the inauguration had nothing to do with Mr Trump or his wife Melania.

"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," Ms Sanders told reporters.

 
 

The probe into the inaugural committee comes as Mr Trump and his White House are already facing investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia, hush-money payments to women claiming to have had affairs with Mr Trump and spending by Mr Trump's foundation, among other issues.

According to the Journal, the investigation into the inaugural committee partly stemmed from materials seized in a probe into the dealings of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Cohen was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes including orchestrating the hush payments, in violation of campaign laws.

Although campaign finance laws restrict the size of campaign contributions, inaugurations can accept unlimited donations, including from corporations. The amount raised by Mr Trump's inaugural committee, chaired by real estate developer and investor Thomas Barrack, was the largest in history, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

The Journal said there was no sign the probe was targeting Mr Barrack. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The event-planning business of Ms Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former unpaid adviser to Mrs Trump, was the highest-paid vendor to the committee at US$25.8 million, the Journal reported.

A recorded conversation between Ms Wolkoff and Cohen in which she expressed concern about the committee's spending was seized from Cohen, the Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors have questioned former campaign aide Richard Gates, who served as deputy chairman of inaugural committee, the Journal reported. Gates pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy charges relating to his foreign consulting work with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mr Tom Green, a lawyer for Gates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Journal said prosecutors are also seeking documents from Mr Franklin Haney, a Tennessee developer who gave US$1 million to the inaugural committee and later hired Cohen to help him obtain a US$5 billion US Department of Energy loan. A loan application by Mr Haney's company is still pending with the department, the Journal reported.

Mr Larry Blust, a lawyer for Mr Haney, declined to comment.

Other major inauguration donors included casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave US$5 million, and investment firm founder Charles Schwab and mining investor Christopher Cline, who gave US$1 million each, according to FEC filings. There is no indication any of the three are part of the investigation.