World

Inaugural probe part of 'hysteria' over Trump presidency, says White House

A federal subpoena seeking documents from Donald Trump's inaugural committee is part of "a hysteria" over the fact that he's president, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday.

Federal inquiry targeting U.S. president's inaugural committee, which spent over $107M on festivities in 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Sunday. The investigation into Trump's inaugural committee is the latest in a series of criminal inquiries into his campaign and presidency. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

A federal subpoena seeking documents from Donald Trump's inaugural committee is part of "a hysteria" over the fact that he's president, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors in New York issued the wide-ranging subpoena Monday, furthering a federal inquiry into a fund that has faced mounting scrutiny into how it raised and spent $107 million US on events celebrating Trump's 2017 inauguration.

Inaugural committee spokesperson Kristin Celauro told The Associated Press that the committee had received the subpoena and was reviewing it.

"It is our intention to co-operate with the inquiry," she said.

A second spokesperson, Owen Blicksilver, declined to answer questions about which documents prosecutors requested. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, which issued the subpoena, declined to comment.

The investigation is the latest in a series of criminal inquiries into Trump's campaign and presidency. Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation.

In a separate case in New York, prosecutors say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign.

"Actually, I think the common thread is a hysteria over the fact that this president became president," Sanders said Tuesday in response to a CNN question. "The common thread is that there is so much hatred out there that they will look for anything to try to create and tie problems to this president."

Later, Sanders reiterated to reporters that the investigation "has nothing to do with the White House."

"I think the biggest focus and the thing that most Americans care about has nothing to do with the inaugural, and it has everything to do with what the path forward looks like," she said.

Investigators 'want everything'

The subpoena seeks "all documents" related to the committee's donors and vendors, as well as records relating to "benefits" donors received after making contributions, according to a person familiar with the document. The person was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

"They want everything," the person said, referring to federal prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment.

According to the subpoena, prosecutors are investigating a host of possible federal crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and disclosure violations.

Among other things, the subpoena sought documents related to any payments made by donors "directly to contractors and/or vendors" who worked for the committee, the person familiar with the document said. Any such payments sent directly from donors to vendors, without being passed through the committee, could potentially violate public disclosure laws.

Foreign donations?

The subpoena also requested documents relating to donations "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," the person familiar with the document said.

The New York Times reported late last year that federal prosecutors are examining whether anyone from Qatar, Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries made illegal payments to the committee and a pro-Trump super political action committee. Foreign contributions to inaugural funds and PACs are prohibited under federal law.

The head of the inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, confirmed to The Associated Press that he was questioned by Mueller in 2017.

But he told the AP last year that he is not a target of the Mueller investigation, which is focused on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The subpoena issued Monday does not mention Barrack or any members of the inaugural committee by name.

But it did request documents related to Imaad Zuberi, a Los Angeles based financier, and his company, Avenue Ventures, which gave $900,000 to the inaugural committee. Zuberi's company also gave $100,000 to the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee to pay off debt from the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Zuberi has given more than $1.1 million to Trump-backed organizations and has accompanied the foreign minister of Qatar during meetings with Trump officials.

A spokesperson for Zuberi, Steve Rabinowitz, said Zuberi has not had any contact with federal investigators about the inaugural committee.

"It's well known that after supporting President Obama and later Hillary Clinton, Imaad gave generously and directly to the Trump inaugural committee, but others gave substantially more," Rabinowitz said. "If in fact he is named on this subpoena, never mind somehow named alone, he is bewildered why."

The subpoena also seeks records involving the committee's dealings with Stripe, a credit-card processing company based in San Francisco that handled online payments for the committee.

A Stripe spokesperson declined to comment on the prosecutors' request but said in a statement the company receives "hundreds of subpoenas and other law enforcement requests in the normal course of business, as do other infrastructure companies of our scale."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now