NEWS
06/02/2019 13:55 GMT | Updated 07/02/2019 08:03 GMT

There's Another, Lesser-Known Investigation Into Trump And It Just Made A Huge Move

The US Attorney probe into the president's inaugural committee, explained for Brits.

While the world’s attention – as well as most of Donald Trump’s vitriol – is concentrated on Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation, there’s another probe underway that could prove just as damaging to the president.

The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is examining how Trump’s inaugural committee raised and then spent more than $100m in the days after he was sworn into office.

On Monday, federal prosecutors demanded documents which could shed light on all manner of potential crimes, from false statements to possible corruption.

So what does it all mean?

The inaugural committee

An inauguration committee is the fund that raises and then spends money on events to celebrate a president taking office.

Although campaign finance laws restrict the size of contributions, inaugurations can accept unlimited donations, including from corporations.

Trump’s managed to raise an astounding $107m (£82.62m) – double the previous record set by Barack Obama’s in 2009.

Where this money came from – and then where it went – is at the centre of the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan (USAOM) probe. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Donald Trump dances with first lady Melania Trump at the Liberty Ball in Washington, just one of the events funded by his inauguration committee.

The subpoena

USAOM has asked for “all documents related to the committee’s donors and vendors” as well as any records related to “benefits” given in exchange for financial contributions.

It also requests any documents relating to donations “made by or on behalf of foreign nationals”, as well as any communications discussing possible donations.

The probe was sparked by the investigation into Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance-related crimes in which he implicated the president.

Inaugural committee spokeswoman Kristin Celauro told The Associated Press the committee was still reviewing the subpoena and “it is our intention to co-operate with the inquiry”.

The potential offences

The list of potential offences is long and rather serious, with the implication being that Trump or his associates took donations in return for political and other favours.

It includes:

  • conspiracy against the US
  • money laundering
  • false statements
  • mail fraud
  • wire fraud
  • inaugural committee disclosure violations
  • violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person 

The inaugural committee members

The two key names associated with the committee are Rick Gates and Michael Cohen, both men who have already pleaded guilty to alleged crimes committed during their time working for Trump.

Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and “fixer”, admitted lying to Congress in November to cover up that he was negotiating a Trump Tower project on Trump’s behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign.

He was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’s alleged sexual affairs.

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed published emails from Cohen detailing how he intended to use Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the presidential campaign trail to help secure the real estate deal.

Gates made a plea deal last year with the Special Counsel probe and ended up testifying against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Part of the deal reportedly included providing information about the inaugural committee, of which Gates was in charge of much of the fundraising.

And according to his own words, he’s no stranger to dabbling in some shady practices. 

When testifying against Manafort last year, Gates told jurors how he spent years disguising millions of dollars in foreign income as loans to lower the former Trump campaign chairman’s tax bill.

He also recounted how he and Manafort used offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, all while concealing the accounts and the income from the Inland Revenue Service.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Michel Cohen.

The president

The subpoena made on Monday does not name Trump directly, but adds to the ever-increasing list of potential and charged crimes levelled at those closest to him.

Last month, the president’s long-time friend and confidant Roger Stone was charged by Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion on a number of counts, including lying to Congress and obstructing the investigation.

Speaking on Tuesday, White House press secretary,Sarah Sanders said the latest development was “hysteria” over the fact Trump won the presidency.

She said: “The common thread is that there is so much hatred out there that they will look for anything to try to create and tie problems to this president.”

Later she told reporters the investigation “has nothing to do with the White House”.

“I think the biggest focus and the thing that most Americans care about has nothing to do with the inaugural and it has everything to do with what the path forward looks like,” she added.