Prosecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether foreign donors illegally channeled money into President TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing MORE's inaugural fund and a pro-Trump super PAC, The New York Times reported Thursday.

People familiar with the inquiry told the paper that prosecutors are probing whether the alleged donations were made in an attempt to buy influence over U.S. policy.

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The investigation is focused on whether people from Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, disguised donations they made to both funds by using straw donors, the Times reported.

Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, PACs and inaugural funds. 

Multiple teams of prosecutors are reportedly inquiring into possible foreign donations to Trump's inaugural fund and the super PAC, according to the paper. Prosecutors from New York and from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's team have reportedly been asking witnesses about whether people from Middle Eastern nations have contributed money.

Thomas Barrack Jr., a financier with close ties to Trump, raised money for both funds, according to the Times.

“Tom has never talked with any foreign individual or entity for the purposes of raising money for or obtaining donations related to either the campaign, the inauguration or any such political activity,” Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Barrack, told the Times.

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. The committee raised $23 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. 

Several people told the Times that then-Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Dem senator: 'Putin had something on' Trump which may account for 'plainly false' statements Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE suggested Barrack create and raise money for the super PAC. The paper notes that the PAC was able to raise unlimited funds as long as it did not coordinate with Trump.

Manafort was convicted on eight federal fraud charges in Virginia in August, pleaded guilty to two additional charges in Washington, D.C., 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 reported earlier Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reported that prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into whether Trump's inaugural committee misspent funds or accepted donations in exchange for access to the administration.

According to the paper, many of Trump's biggest campaign supporters were contributors to his inaugural fund. Donating in exchange for political favors or using funds for purposes other than the inauguration could violate federal laws.

Trump's inaugural committee raised nearly $107 million, more than double what Trump's predecessor raised for his first inaugural. The Times noted that Barrack chaired the fund while former Trump campaign adviser Richard Gates, who has pleaded guilty in Mueller's investigation, managed it.

Gates, who served as a top aide to Manafort, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements to FBI agents in Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that prosecutors' investigation into Trump's inaugural committee in its early stages, and stemmed from materials obtained during an FBI raid earlier this year of longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Investigators in the raids reportedly obtained a recorded conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s new immigration plan faces uphill battle in Senate Overnight Defense: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown on track to become longest ever | Military begins withdrawing equipment from Syria | Bolton taps new deputy Bolton names replacement for deputy who clashed with first lady MORE who worked on the inauguration. Wolkoff can be heard expressing concern about how the committee was spending money, but the Journal could not determine when the conversation took place.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders distanced Trump from the inauguration committee later Thursday following the Journal's report, telling reporters, "That doesn't have anything to do with the president or the first lady."

An investigation by Manhattan prosecutors into Trump's inauguration committee would represent yet another legal dilemma for the president, who has had five former associates implicated in Mueller's probe.

The White House and Trump campaign did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

— Updated 11:40 p.m.