Federal prosecutors in New York City have begun a criminal investigation into whether President Trump's 2017 inaugural committee misspent any of its record $107 million haul and whether any of the committee's biggest donors sought access to or special favors from the incoming Trump administration for their donations, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday evening, citing people familiar with the matter.
The investigation arose partly out of materials seized by the FBI in an April raid of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen's office and residences, the Journal says, and federal prosecutors have sought information from Rick Gates, deputy chairman for both Trump's campaign and inaugural committee, who has pleaded guilty to different crimes and is cooperating with investigators. "Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws," the Journal notes. "Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law."
Trump's $107 million inaugural fund was more than twice the previous record, set in 2009. The inaugural committee has not publicly accounted for how it spent $103 million, though it has identified vendors it paid $61 million and broken out some of the broad spending categories. Thomas Barrack, the real estate developer and longtime Trump friend who chaired the inaugural committee, said the committee's finances were audited by an outside organization, though he has not made that audit public. "There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack," the Journal says. Reporter Rebecca Davis O'Brien, who helped break the story, walked through some of the other details with CNN's Jake Tapper, and you can watch that below and read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber
Over the course of three years, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker received more than $1.2 million working for a charity called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, The Washington Post reports, a conservative nonprofit that does not reveal its donors.
Whitaker started at FACT in 2014, and served as president. The organization says its mission is to expose unethical conduct by public officials, and Whitaker made regular appearances on political TV and radio shows, often criticizing Hillary Clinton and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The New York Timesreports that since 2014, FACT has raised nearly $3.5 million, with its largest single expense Whitaker's salary.
The Post analyzed incorporation and tax filings, and found that in 2012, FACT was created under a different name and applied for tax-exempt status by saying the organization would study how environmental regulations impact businesses. A man named in the IRS filings as a board member told the Post this incarnation of FACT "only existed on paper."
A conservative foundation named DonorsTrust, which gives other conservative foundations cover to hide their giving, handed over $1.1 million to FACT between 2014 and 2015, but the source of that donation is unclear, the Times reports. A spokesman for FACT who asked that his name not be used told the Post that as a nonprofit, FACT "does not and is not required to release its donor information." He said the IRS was notified of FACT's name change, but did not respond to questions about whether, as required by IRS rules, FACT notified the agency about how its mission changed. Read more about FACT and its mysterious funding atThe Washington Post and The New York Times.Catherine Garcia