Federal prosecutors’ sweeping subpoena for records related to President Trump’s inaugural committee begins a new legal headache for the administration, threatening to extend his troubles into the 2020 election.
It’s unclear from the wide-ranging subpoena what prosecutors think they have, but for a White House that had been eagerly anticipating the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, the scrutiny by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan is unwelcome news.
“Even if there are no bombshells here, there are certainly going to be issues and potential dangers for the administration,” said former prosecutor Kendall Coffey. “None of this may reach the highest level of campaign officials, much less the president, but it will be a process that is uncomfortable for almost everyone.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the subpoena “has nothing to do with the White House” and referred questions to the inaugural committee, which confirmed receipt of the subpoena but offered no other comment.
At issue is the event’s unprecedented $107 million price tag, more than double the cost of the inaugurations for former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Prosecutors demanded to see all documents about the committee’s donors and vendors, including any “benefits” donors may have received for their contributions. In particular, prosecutors asked for information on donations to the committee “made by or on behalf of foreign nationals,” according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story.
“If you raise $107 million, there are going to be questions about what you did with it,” said John Moscow, a former prosecutor who now works in private practice.
The inaugural committee faced allegations of misspending and cost overruns since the summer of 2017. Committee members have struggled to explain where all of the money went. Excess funds were expected to be donated to charity, with an announcement about the contributions in April 2017. The announcement was never made.
Then last year Rick Gates, a top inauguration official, admitted he may have pocketed some of the committee’s money.
Gates, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and conspiracy against the U.S., is now cooperating with the government.
Also cooperating is Samuel Patten, a Republican lobbyist who pleaded guilty to violating foreign lobbying laws and who copped to orchestrating the purchase of four inauguration tickets, at $50,000 each, to an unnamed foreigner.
Court filings do not show that the inauguration committee was aware of the straw purchase.
Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime fixer who raised funds for the inauguration and who pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation, also is cooperating.
“The best case for the inaugural committee is they got all kinds of information and now want to see if there is evidence to substantiate anything,” Mr. Coffey said. “Prosecutors have been speaking to Michael Cohen, Sam Patten and Rick Gates, who are all eager to get as much as they can in the way of points.”
It is not known if the investigation did spawn from information provided from the three individuals.
Former prosecutors say the wide-ranging subpoena is a sign that the investigation is in its infancy, which means it could drag through the 2020 election.
“Subpoenas are commonly really broad,” said Ken White, who now works in private practice. “The norm is for a prosecutor to ask for everything but the kitchen sink and then negotiate it down to something reasonably narrow.”
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