Trump inauguration team under probe over fund-raising: Report

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.

Investigators examining if some donors gave money for access, policy concessions: Sources

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK • Federal prosecutors are investigating whether US President Donald Trump's inaugural committee misspent some of the record US$107 million (S$147 million) it raised from donors, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people it said were familiar with the matter.

The early-stage investigation by the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan 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 reported on Thursday, 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 spokesman 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 that include 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 that 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 Melania 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.

Prosecutors have questioned former campaign aide Richard Gates, who served as deputy chairman of the 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. Mr Larry Blust, a lawyer for Mr Haney, declined to comment.

Other major inauguration donors included casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, investment firm founder Charles Schwab and mining investor Christopher Cline, according to FEC filings. There is no indication that the three are part of the investigation.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2018, with the headline 'Trump inauguration team under probe over fund-raising: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe