Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former federal prosecutor, noted the criminal investigation into Donald Trump's presidential inaugural committee this week, and raised an unexpected observation.
"The Southern District of New York investigation presents a much more serious threat to the administration, potentially, than what Bob Mueller is doing," Christie said.
At face value, that seems hard to believe. After all, the special counsel's investigation into the Russia scandal has already led to felony convictions against a variety of people in the president's orbit. Christie thinks this unrelated criminal probe might be "much more serious"?
As far-fetched as that may seem, there's no denying the fact that the investigation into the president's inaugural committee keeps taking serious turns.
Federal prosecutors in New York are circling Donald Trump's inaugural committee as part of a wide-ranging investigation into possible money laundering, illegal contributions and cash-for-access schemes. Now, WNYC and ProPublica have identified evidence of potential tax law violations by the committee.
A spokesman confirmed that the nonprofit 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee paid the Trump International Hotel a rate of $175,000 per day for event space -- in spite of internal objections at the time that the rate was far too high. If the committee is deemed by auditors or prosecutors to have paid an above-market rate, that could violate tax laws prohibiting self-dealing, according to experts.
Tax law violations tend to be complex, but this one's actually pretty simple. The inaugural committee was a non-profit entity created to oversee Trump's swearing-in ceremony and related festivities. If it deliberately used its funds to overpay Trump's hotel, in the process helping Trump's business, it may have run afoul of the law.
Unfortunately, it's not the only possible transgression of interest. In addition to the possible money laundering, illegal contributions, pay-to-play schemes, and tax-law violations, the new reporting from WNYC and ProPublica added that the inaugural committee spent "at least $1.5 million" at a hotel in which the committee's chairman, Tom Barrack, held a financial stake.