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Trump’s inauguration is under serious scrutiny from New York prosecutors

"They can try to fire Bob Mueller, but they can't fire the Southern District of New York."

by David Gilbert
Feb 5 2019, 12:44pm

Getty Images

Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents from the Trump inaugural committee, part of an ongoing probe into possible illegal foreign contributions, multiple outlets reported Tuesday.

Issued Monday by the U.S. attorney’s office in the southern district of New York, the demand points to a deepening criminal probe into the presidency — and notably one that now goes beyond the special counsel investigation, making it far harder for the White House to manipulate.

First reported by ABC, and confirmed by several other outlets, the sweeping subpoena calls for a raft of documents related to the record-breaking $107 million raised to fund events for the January 2017 inauguration.

Investigators want to ascertain whether foreigner people or businesses funneled money into the inaugural committee’s coffers — an illegal act.

The subpoena is also seeking information on donors, vendors, contractors and bank accounts and any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo opportunities with the president.

Citing people with knowledge of the investigation, the New York Times reported that prosecutors are looking at money laundering as well as election fraud.

“We have just received a subpoena for documents. While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry,” a spokesperson for the inauguration committee said.

There is no suggestion yet of wrongdoing by members of the committee.

What are prosecutors looking for?

Prosecutors want to know where the $107 million — more than double the previous record set by Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 — came from and how it was spent.

According to a copy of the subpoena seen by the Wall Street Journal, the lawyers are looking for documents relating to payments “made by or on behalf of foreign nationals, including but not limited to any communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals.”

It is illegal for federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds to directly accept funds from overseas donors.

As well as a list of donors and vendors related to the extravagant celebrations, investigators are interested in the possibility that donations were “made or directed to contractors or vendors” directly by donors, rather than through the committee.

Investigators may also be looking at how the Trump Organization benefited from the celebrations. In December ProPublica reported that investigators were focusing on Ivanka Trump’s role in negotiating the prices paid by the committee to the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Who is named in the subpoena?

The only person named is Los Angeles-based venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi, and the firm he is affiliated with, Avenue Ventures. The company donated $900,000 to the inaugural committee according to records.

Zuberi told the Washington Post that he had no knowledge of the subpoena before being contacted for comment.

“It is well known that after supporting President Obama and Hillary Clinton that Imaad gave generously and directly to the Trump inaugural,” Zuberi’s spokesperson said. “But many others gave substantially more. If in fact he is named in this subpoena, never mind somehow named alone, he is bewildered why.”

READ: Don Jr. and Jared Kushner’s congressional testimonies are finally going to Mueller

A major donor to the Obama and Clinton campaigns, Zuberi has continued his political volte-face by donating more than $500,000 to Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican party in the last two years.

How does this tie into Mueller’s investigation?

The Journal reports that the SDNY probe was sparked by the FBI raid on the office of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen in April.

That raid turned up a recorded conversation between the lawyer and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, in which Wolkoff is alleged to have “expressed concern” about how the inaugural committee was spending the money it had raised.

It is unclear if special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is still investigating the inaugural committee, or if it has referred the case entirely to the SDNY.

Either way, the two investigations will almost certainly overlap due to the central role of Rick Gates.

A former senior Trump campaign official who acted as a deputy chairman of the inaugural committee, Gates headed up much of the group’s fundraising efforts.

He has been cooperating with Mueller’s team for more than a year, and has pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to the F.B.I. related to his work in Ukraine with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In August, Gates testified that he couldn't even remember whether or not he stole money from inauguration campaign.

Cover image: President Donald Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence hold their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem during the 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration after they were sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America and 48th Vice President in Washington, USA on January 20, 2017. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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