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Federal Prosecutors Investigate Whether Trump's Inaugural Committee Misspent Funds


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating President Trump's 2017 inaugural committee. Specifically they're looking at whether the committee misspent some of the $107 million it raised from donations. Rebecca Ballhaus is one of those reporters. She worked on the story, and she joins me now. Welcome to the program.

REBECCA BALLHAUS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So give us more detail on the allegations here. I understand there's kind of two different sets of allegations.

BALLHAUS: Yeah, so it seems that federal prosecutors are looking at two different parts of the inaugural committee. One of them is how the inaugural committee spent its money and whether there was any misspending there. And the other is at the donors who gave to the committee and whether they received any improper access or policy concessions in return for their donations.

CORNISH: And I understand the investigation grew out of a recording that was seized in the raid of Michael Cohen's home earlier this year, President Trump's former personal attorney.

BALLHAUS: That's right. So when they raided his home, office and hotel room in April, FBI agents obtained a recording of a conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who was a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inauguration. And in that recording, Wolkoff expresses some concern about how the inaugural committee is spending its money, at least the way it's been described to us.

CORNISH: So what have you learned in your reporting about who prosecutors are looking at specifically?

BALLHAUS: So that's an area that we're still looking into. We know that prosecutors have spoken to two people. One of them is Frank Haney, who's a donor who gave $1 million to the inauguration and later hired Michael Cohen to help him obtain a loan from President Trump's Energy Department. We know that Haney has been asked for documents related to his donation and for any correspondence he had with the committee or meetings, calendars, things like that.

We also know that Rick Gates, who was the deputy chairman of that committee, has been asked questions about the inaugural fund. And Rick Gates pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to cooperate with investigators. So we know that he's met with Mueller's office and with the Southern District of New York.

CORNISH: What's been the response from members of the inaugural committee? Who have you reached out to?

BALLHAUS: So there are a number of really prominent donors who gave to that committee or were on its finance committee. And we by no means understand that investigators have reached out to all of them. Sheldon Adelson is one, for example, that we know has not been reached out to. He was a really - I believed he gave $5 million and has been a longtime backer of the president's. And then Tom Barrack, who headed the committee - we also have no sign that he's a target of this investigation. He has not been contacted since - by investigators since he spoke to Mueller's office last year. And at that point, he was asked a handful of questions about the inaugural, but it was not the focus of his interview.

CORNISH: And anything from the White House?

BALLHAUS: The White House hasn't responded to our questions about this matter. There is no indication that they're aware of the investigation or at least that they were aware of it before we reported it. It's not something that they would necessarily need to take to the president's lawyers because we don't have any sign that they're investigating Trump's spending in - of the inaugural money. But it's fair to say that if the investigation continues, that it seems like an area that they would look into.

CORNISH: That's Rebecca Ballhaus, reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Thanks for sharing your reporting.

BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.