Trump inaugural committee under criminal investigation for misuse of funds, pay to play: report

The investigation began in part after federal agents seized materials from the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Image: Donald Trump arrives to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017.
Donald Trump arrives to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA file

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump's inaugural committee is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for pay to play and misspending some of the $107 million it raised from donations, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The probe was launched by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, the paper said, citing people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation, which is reportedly in its early stages, is looking into whether some of the committee's top donors gave money to gain access to the incoming Trump administration to influence policy positions, which could be a violation of anti-corruption laws.

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The Journal reported that the investigation began in part after federal agents seized materials from Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in federal prison for unrelated crimes.

NBC News has not independently verified the Journal report.

The committee issued a statement, saying it was "not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists...The PIC’s finances were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted."

FBI agents raided Cohen's office and hotel room in April seeking information about a payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Trump, shortly before the 2016 election.

During that raid, FBI agents seized a recorded conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump, who worked on events for the inaugural committee, the paper reported.

On the recording, Wolkoff reportedly raised concerns about how the committee was spending money.

The paper reported that it could not determine when the conversation took place or why it was recorded, but said it in the possession of federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

In public tax filings, the committee identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, according to the Journal. The committee is required to publicly disclose its top five vendors as a nonprofit organization.

Federal Election Commission records show that donors included casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, AT&T and Boeing, all of whom gave $1 million or more. But the Journal reported that there is no sign that those donors are under investigation.