Well, when it rains, it pours, doesn’t it?
It seems the conviction of former Trump attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen was the Pandora’s box of troubles for the Donald, because those stings keep coming.
So here’s the latest, and it all goes back to that raid of Michael Cohen’s home, offices, and hotel rooms earlier this year, where feds netted numerous files and recordings of conversations Cohen was making, secretly.
The Wall Street Journal broke this particular story earlier Thursday evening, and it has to do with the newly elected President Trump’s lavish inauguration.
You didn’t think a man whose whole life and career has been marked by sleazy, backroom deals and corruption would change up because he won a major election, did you?
Trump raised a record $107 million in funds for his inauguration, and now federal prosecutors in Manhattan have launched a criminal investigation into how those funds were spent.
The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.
Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump is apparently featured on one of Cohen’s secret recordings.
While authorities aren’t sure what prompted the recording of the conversation between Wolkoff and Cohen, what they do know is that she was a member of the inaugural committee, and from the tone of the recording, she was concerned about how the money for the inauguration was being spent, and where it was going.
For the time being, attorneys associated with the inaugural committee are staying mum. They say they have no knowledge of the investigation that is mentioned by the Journal and cannot comment, further.
The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.
The bulk of Trump’s inaugural funding came from wealthy donors, such as Sheldon Adelson, or corporations like AT&T and Boeing. They all gave a minimum of $1 million.
Investigators have turned to Richard Gates, a campaign aide, and former deputy chairman to the inaugural committee, to get answers about the spending of those funds.
Gates is not unknown to federal authorities. Besides his meetings with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, he’s also been in contact with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr. Gates, who served as deputy in the inaugural fund, in February pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign. The case was brought by Mr. Mueller’s office. Mr. Gates agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in ongoing investigations.
The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Mr. Trump. There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by the special counsel’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators,who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, asked Mr. Barrack only a handful of questions about the inaugural fund, the person said.
In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, on a referral from Mr. Mueller, obtained a guilty plea from a Washington consultant who admitted he used a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw purchaser” so that a “prominent Ukraine oligarch” could attend the inauguration. The names were never disclosed.
And then there’s Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney. Manhattan feds are questioning him about his $1 million donation to the inaugural fund, made in December 2016.
Mr. Haney was looking for a loan. In early April, he hired Michael Cohen, at the same time Cohen was still serving as Trump’s attorney and was in contact with him. He was hoping to receive a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department, in order to build a nuclear power plant.
Currently, that loan paperwork is still sitting at the Energy Department, unattended.
Let’s hope Secretary Perry keeps his hands clean of this.
Haney has been asked for all documentation related to that deal, including correspondence, calendars, and other paperwork.
So here’s where it gets sketchy, and we go back to Ms. Wolkoff.
According to the inaugural fund’s tax filings, the committee’s top-paid vendor was an event-production firm led by Ms. Wolkoff called WIS Media Partners. The company, which California corporate records show was formed 45 days before the inauguration, was paid $25.8 million, the largest sum paid to a vendor.
Ms. Wolkoff is a former unpaid adviser to Mrs. Trump who also helped produce events surrounding the inauguration. Ms. Wolkoff and several partners were paid about $1.6 million of the $25.8 million, and the remainder went to subcontractors, a person familiar with Ms. Wolkoff’s work said.
According to the report from the WSJ, it’s unclear what spending items have alerted investigators, as this is still a very recent revelation.
So let’s list off the expenses that have been made public through tax filings:
- $77 million on conferences, conventions, and meetings
- $9 million on travel
- $4 million on ticketing
- $4.5 million on salaries and wages
An external audit of the event is supposedly completed, but to date, the results of that audit have not been made public.
Some of those who were involved in putting together the events around Trump’s inauguration are saying everything was so expensive because of the last minute rush to get it put together.
Nobody expected Trump to win – including everybody surrounding Trump, so everything was put together in a scramble.
As I said, it’s still early, but the fact that authorities are zeroing in on this, so soon after Cohen’s sentencing could mean they’re planning to do a clean sweep to end the year.
Stand by, folks.