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U.S. Attorney in Manhattan launches criminal probe of Trump inaugural committee

15 December 2018

Federal prosecutors in NY are investigating the committee for possible financial abuses related to the more than $100 million in donations it raised, people familiar with the matter have told CNN.

The New York Times reported Thursday night that federal prosecutors are looking into whether people from foreign countries funneled potentially illegal donations to both the inaugural fund and a pro-Trump super PAC in efforts to buy "influence over American policy".

According to the daily, federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the matter from the documents it recovered during raid at the office and residences of Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Citing conversations with people familiar with the investigation, which is being handled by the US Attorney's office in Manhattan, the Journal reported that prosecutors are also looking into whether the committee accepted donations from individuals looking to gain influence in or access to the new administration.

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In an interview with investigators a year ago, Barrack said that Manafort seemed to view the political committee as an arm of the campaign, despite laws meant to prevent such coordination, according to a person familiar with the interview.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to a number of charges brought against him by the special counsel in the Russian Federation investigation, Robert Mueller, and as part of his plea deal agreed to cooperate with the United States justice department.

Trump's inaugural committee raised twice as much as Obama's but hosted fewer events, though some involved in the planning claim this was because they did not expect to win and had to plan the festivities at the last minute.

The Journal did report that Richard Gates, former inaugural committee deputy chairman, and Franklin L. Haney, a top donor, were contacted about the investigation.

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The inaugural committee was headed by another major conservative donor, the real estate developer Thomas Barrack. "Diverting funds from the organisation, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law". During his conversation with Mueller, the inaugural fund was only raised briefly, the source said.

Trump's funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more - including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co., according to Federal Election Commission filings. Among other issues, they asked about a Mediterranean cruise that Barrack and Manafort took after Manafort was sacked in August 2016 from the Trump campaign because of a scandal over his previous work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

The mounting evidence places him increasingly at the center of campaign finance violations that have already led to prison time for Cohen. Earlier this year, Sam Patten, a well-known Republican lobbyist, pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party and admitted to lining up a straw purchaser to pay $50,000 for four tickets to the inauguration.

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U.S. Attorney in Manhattan launches criminal probe of Trump inaugural committee