When someone says, "A controversial part of Donald Trump's operation is facing scrutiny from federal prosecutors as part of an intensifying criminal investigation," and we're not immediately sure which scandal this refers to, it's safe to say the president has a problem.
We know, of course, about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. We also know about the campaign-finance scandal in which Trump has already been implicated in felonies. There's also the Trump Foundation, which is facing its own investigation.
And then there's Trump's inaugural committee.
Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents from President Donald Trump's inaugural committee, a representative of the committee said Monday night.The U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York is investigating allegations that the committee misspent some of the tens of millions it raised from donations and that some donors gave money in exchange for access to influence Trump administration policy positions.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, which saw a copy of the subpoena, federal prosecutors have requested information "related to the committee's donors and spending." The article added that subpoena specifically asked for documents regarding donations to the committee "made by or on behalf of foreign nationals, including but not limited to any communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals."
Though it hasn't been reported elsewhere, the New York Times' reporting on this raised the prospect of possible money laundering and fraud.
As regular readers know, by many metrics, Trump’s inaugural fund was a great success. After his election, the Republican eliminated caps on individual contributions -- caps that George W. Bush and Barack Obama both utilized -- and sold “exclusive access” for seven-figure contributions.
The result was a fundraising juggernaut: Trump’s inaugural committee took in nearly $107 million, much of which went unspent during poorly attended festivities.
The trouble is, the president’s team has struggled to explain exactly where all of that money went.
The original plan was for the inaugural committee to donate excess funds to charity, and Trump World planned to release details about those contributions in April 2017. That never happened.
Tom Barrack, a friend of the president’s who led the inaugural committee, told the Associated Press soon after that an audit of the committee’s finances was complete, but it “would not share a copy with AP or say who performed it.”
And as a rule, when these guys act like they have something to hide, it’s because they have something to hide.
The story took another turn last year when we learned the inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm run by one of Melania Trump’s friends – which seemed problematic, though it still didn’t explain where the rest of the pot of money went.
As for the White House's response to all of this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders in December criticized Democrats for the scrutiny -- which was odd, since the investigation is being conducted by federal prosecutors, not elected partisans -- and insisted that the president's inaugural committee "didn't have anything to do with the president."
Team Trump may need to come up with a better pitch.