Amid mounting pressure on President Trump from the Robert Mueller investigation, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office has reportedly launched another Trump-related investigation, this time involving the president’s inaugural team.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have begun looking into how the inaugural committee spent its record $107 million in donations for the 2017 event, according to The Wall Street Journal‘s sources. The Journal suggests that prosecutors suspect the improper diversion of funds by the nonprofit, which could be a federal crime.
Some of the Journal’s sources say that the criminal probe is also 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.” Such quid pro quo arrangements would violate federal corruption laws.
The Journal’s sources say the investigation was prompted in part by materials obtained in the federal probe of Michael Cohen, Trump’s legal “fixer” who has since flipped on his former top client.
On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to a variety of crimes. In his guilty plea, Cohen said he directed “hush money” to Stormy Daniels at the direction of Trump for the purpose of impacting the 2016 election. “Time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass,” Cohen said in a tearful statement Wednesday.
Cohen’s rapid reversal from Trump’s “fixer” to Trump accuser began in April when the FBI raided his office, home and hotel room. Some of the information obtained in this raid, the Journal’s sources say, is now being used by the federal prosecutors in Manhattan, in particular a recorded conversation between Cohen and a former adviser to Melania Trump. The adviser, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the Journal reports, “expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money.”
The Journal notes that it could not determine the time of the recording or why it was recorded.
A lawyer “close to the matter,” told the Journal that the committee has not been contacted by prosecutors or asked for records. “We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists,” the lawyer said.
The inaugural committee has publicized its top five vendors, as required by law; those vendors accounted for $61 million of the $103 million it spent. Wolkoff’s event production firm, WIS Media Partners, which was formed a little over a month before the inauguration, received the largest amount, $25.8 million.
Richard Gates, who served as the committee’s deputy chair, pleaded guilty in February for conspiracy charges connected to foreign political consulting work unrelated to the Trump campaign.
The Journal notes that Mueller has also probed “whether any foreign money flowed to the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign funds,” and referred a Washington consultant to the Washington U.S. attorney’s office after he admitted to using a U.S. citizen as a “straw purchaser” on behalf of a Ukraine oligarch so he could attend the inauguration.