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Trump's inauguration spending under investigation by federal authorities, reports say  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

WASHINGTON - Federal authorities are investigating whether the president's inauguration committee misspent some of the millions of dollars it raked in, according to several media reports. 

The investigation is being led by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and is examining whether donors gave money in return for access to Donald Trump and his administration, the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported. 

The Journal, citing unnamed officials, reports the probe is in its early stages but aims to determine whether some of the donors to Trump's $107 million inauguration fund attempted to gain influence within the administration on policy decisions, something that could violate federal corruption laws. 

The investigation rose, at least in part, out of information seized while investigating Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney and fixer. 

On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for a host of crimes, including making secret hush payments before the 2016 election to women who accused Trump of having affairs.

During the April raids on Cohen's home, office, and hotel room, federal investigators discovered a taped conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who worked with the inaugural committee, the WSJ reported. 

The contents of the recording are unclear but Wolkoff, according to the Journal, voiced concerns over how some of the inaugural funds were being spent. 

Trump's inaugural committee responded to the reports with a statement to CNN, saying no one had been contacted thus far about any investigation and the committee was in "full compliance with all applicable laws." 

"We simply have no evidence the investigation exists," the statement read. "The (committee's) finances were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted."

The statement continued: "Moreover, the inauguration's accounting was provided both to the Federal Election Commission and the IRS in compliance with all laws and regulations. These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors. The names of donors were provided to the FEC and have been public for nearly two years and those donors were vetted in accordance with the law and no improprieties have been found regarding the vetting of those donors."

But the campaign's inaugural funds have been scrutinized for months and no one quite knows how much of the money was spent and where the rest may have gone.

A year after the inauguration, the committee that raised the $106.7 million for the event still had not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided an accounting of its finances.

The investigation into the inauguration funds could be another hurdle for the White House, which is already trying to tap down the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has slowly encircled the president and some of his closest allies. 

The Journal reports that federal prosecutors have questioned Rick Gates about the fund. Gates, a former Trump campaign aide, has cooperated heavily with Mueller's office and this summer testified against his boss, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. 

Manafort was found guilty in August in a bank and tax fraud conspiracy, the first guilty verdict obtained by Mueller's office. 

The Journal also reported investigators have questioned others, including Tennessee developer Franklin Haney about his $1 million donation to the Trump's inauguration. The WSJ notes that Haney had hired Cohen earlier this year to help on a nuclear-power project and hoped to get a loan from Trump's Energy Department. 

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