Washington, Dec 14 (IANS) US President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible financial abuses related to foreign donations raised for his inauguration, the media reported.
According to a report in the New York Times on Thursday, prosecutors were examining whether foreigners illegally funnelled donations to Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC in hopes of buying influence over American policy.
The inquiry focused on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds, the daily reported citing people familiar with the matter.
Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.
In a statement, Trump’s inaugural committee said the celebration was “in full compliance with all applicable laws”.
“The (committee’s) finances were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted,” it said.
Prosecutors from New York and from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team were reportedly asking witnesses about whether people from Middle Eastern nations contributed money.
Tom Barrack, a financier with close ties to Trump, raised money for both funds, according to the Times. But as per reports, he had not yet spoken with investigators since an interview he had with Mueller last year.
The super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was created in 2016 when Trump’s campaign was cash-strapped and failing to garner funds from major Republican donors, the Times reported.
According to several people familiar with the investigation, the President’s then campaign manager Paul Manafort suggested that Barrack create and raise funds for the political action committee, which could collect unlimited amounts of money as long as it avoided coordinating closely with then candidate Trump.
Manafort was convicted on eight federal fraud charges in August, pleaded guilty to two additional charges in September and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 election.
Prosecutors’ investigation into Trump’s inaugural committee was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. It said that the investigation “partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings”.
During a raid at Cohen’s properties earlier, a recorded conversation between him and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to First Lady Melania Trump, was seized, according to the newspaper.
It said that Wolkoff expressed concern in the conversation about how the inaugural committee was spending money.
Rick Gates, Trump’s former campaign aide who has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, was asked by prosecutors about the committee’s spending and its donors, the Journal reported.
The committee had raised a record-setting $107 million and received much of its funding from wealthy donors who gave $1 million or more, the report said, adding that some of the fund’s top donors, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. (the parent company of CNN) and Boeing Co. were not currently under investigation.