On the subject of Middle Eastern financial ties- Trump's inauguration may have received illegal money from the Middle East in exchange for political favours, and is now under investigation:
https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/13/politics ... index.html
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural committee is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York for possible financial abuses related to the more than $100 million in donations raised for his inauguration, according to sources familiar with the matter.
One source familiar with the matter says the investigation is in the early stages and investigators are generally focused on whether any inauguration money was misspent.
The investigation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal Thursday afternoon.
Citing conversations with people familiar with the investigation, which is being handled by the US Attorney's office in Manhattan, the Journal reported that prosecutors are also looking into whether the committee accepted donations from individuals looking to gain influence in or access to the new administration.
The newspaper notes that "giving money in exchange for political favors" is illegal, as is misuse of any donated funds. The committee was registered as a nonprofit.
The New York Times reported Thursday night that federal prosecutors are looking into whether people from foreign countries funneled potentially illegal donations to both the inaugural fund and a pro-Trump super PAC in efforts to buy "influence over American policy." The paper, citing people familiar with the inquiry, said it focuses on people from Middle Eastern countries -- including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- and whether they "used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds."
Federal law does not allow foreign contributions to inaugural funds or PACs, according to the Times.
In a statement, Trump's inaugural committee said the celebration was "in full compliance with all applicable laws."
"The (committee) is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. 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. 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 regardng the vetting of those donors."
When asked by reporters about the Wall Street Journal story Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "That doesn't have anything to do with the President or the first lady. The biggest thing the President did, his engagement in the inauguration, was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The President was focused on the transition at that time and not on any of the planning for the inauguration."
According to the Journal, sources told the paper that the investigation "partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's business dealings."
During a raid of Cohen's properties last spring, a recorded conversation between him and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump, was seized, according to the newspaper. Wolkoff expressed concern in the conversation about how the inaugural committee was spending money, a person familiar with the Cohen investigation told the Journal.
Rick Gates, Trump's former campaign aide who has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, was asked by prosecutors about the committee's spending and its donors, the Journal reported, citing conversations with people close to the matter.
Tom Barrack, a real estate developer who ran the inaugural committee, has not yet spoken with investigators since an interview he had with the special counsel last year, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. During his conversation with Mueller, the inaugural fund was only raised briefly, the source said.
"The inaugural committee hasn't been asked for records or been contacted by prosecutors. We are not aware of any investigation," the source told CNN.
The committee, which CNN previously reported had raised a record-setting $107 million, received much of its funding from wealthy donors who gave $1 million or more, according to the Journal. Some of the fund's top donors, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. (the parent company of CNN) and Boeing Co. are not currently under investigation, the newspaper reported.
This story has been updated.
Also (Posting here because its not directly related to the Mueller probe), Russian spy and gun activist Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy against the United States, and admits to infiltrating the NRA and Republican Party on the orders of Russian oligarch and Putin ally Torshin:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/201 ... conspiracy
A 30-year-old former student has become the first Russian national convicted for seeking to influence US politics during the 2016 presidential election.
Maria Butina, who built a powerful network that reached into Donald Trump’s circle, tried to infiltrate the influential National Rifle Association (NRA) and relay intelligence on American politicians to a Russian government official.
Maria Butina: ties emerge between NRA, alleged spy and Russian billionaire
On Thursday, at the US district court for the District of Columbia, Butina pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for less prison time.
The prosecutors in the Butina case are not from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow. Mueller has brought criminal charges against a series of Russian individuals and entities but those cases are still pending.
Butina entered the packed courtroom in Washington looking composed but wan. The court heard that solitary confinement has taken a toll on her. Her red hair was pulled back in a long braid. She wore a green jumpsuit with short sleeves; underneath was a white garment that had a hole in the left elbow.
She stood before Judge Tanya Chutkan and took the oath. The judge asked if Butina’s mind was clear as she prepared to enter the guilty plea. She replied: “Absolutely clear.”
Butina is a former graduate student at American University in Washington and enthusiastic gun rights activist. Prosecutors said she drafted a proposal entitled “Description of Diplomacy Project” in March 2015 – before Trump launched his election campaign – to develop ties with the Republicans with the aim of influencing US foreign policy.
The statement of offence notes: “Further, Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain US political party (hereafter, ‘Political Party #1’). Butina predicted that the candidate nominated by Political Party #1 would likely win the upcoming US presidential election.”
In this courtroom sketch, Maria Butina, left, is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll on Thursday
In this courtroom sketch, Maria Butina, left, is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll on Thursday Photograph: Dana Verkouteren/AP
She did not shy away from the spotlight. In July 2015 Butina was selected to ask Trump a question about his plans for ties with Russia at a rally in Las Vegas. In what are thought to be his first public remarks on the issue, the novice candidate replied: “I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin … I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
Prosecutors also told how Butina worked with her American boyfriend Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative and insider at theNRA, to pursue the plot.
The scheme was guided and financed in part by Alexander Torshin, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin and deputy governor of the Russian central bank whose retirement was reported last week by US media.
The statement of offence reads: “With US Person 1’s assistance and subject to Russian Official’s direction, Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics. Butina sought to use those unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russian Federation, acting through Russian Official.”
In early 2016, Erickson was in contact with a senior official on the Trump campaign, Rick Dearborn, offering to help set up a meeting between Trump and Putin before the election, with Torshin apparently the middleman.
And in May 2016, Torshin and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, attended a formal dinner during the NRA’s annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, though it is not known if they spoke to each other.
Butina also travelled to conferences to meet Republican candidates, hosted “friendship dinners” with wealthy Americans, courted with NRA leaders and coordinated a Russian delegation to last year’s national prayer breakfast in Washington, where Trump gave remarks.
She was arrested in July 2017 and charged with acting as an agent of Russia’s government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Moscow. She initially pleaded not guilty but changed her plea at Thursday’s hearing.
Chutkan repeatedly asked if Butina understood what rights she was waiving. She said she did. Chutkan asked: “What do you want to do?” Butina replied firmly: “Guilty.”
The judge said: “I am satisfied that Maria Butina is fully competent and capable of making a decision today … I will accept the guilty plea and Maria Butina is judged guilty of this offence.”
Accused spy Maria Butina met with Russia's former US ambassador
No sentencing date has been set but a status hearing was scheduled for 12 February. Under her plea deal, Butina agreed to cooperate “completely and forthrightly” with US law enforcement about “any and all” matters deemed relevant. She faces a possible maximum prison sentence of five years followed by deportation. But her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated that under US sentencing guidelines for similar crimes, she could face up to six months in prison.
The prosecution’s statement of offence did not mention Trump or his campaign by name. But Reuters has previously reported that Butina was a Trump supporter who boasted at Washington parties that she could use her political connections to help people get jobs in his White House. No evidence was presented that she worked for Russian intelligence.
But the case will continue to reverberate in Washington as Mueller’s net tightens around Trump and his allies, including the gun lobby. Democratic congressman Ted Lieu tweeted: “The guilty plea of Russian operative Maria Butina today raises the questions of what did @NRA officials know and when did they know it? The plea also raises the issue of what GOP party members or electeds may have known. Oh, and in January, House Democrats control subpoena power.”
Putin spoke about Butina on Tuesday in Moscow, a day after US court filings indicated that she would plea guilty in Washington. “She risks 15 years in jail. For what?” he asked. “I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her.”