White House, inaugural committee push back against report of criminal investigation

President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol

Modal Trigger President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the US Capitol on Jan. 20 2017. Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal reports a federal investigation has been launched into whether the then U.S. president-elect misspent some of the money earmarked for his inauguration.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the USA attorney's office in Manhattan was in the early stages of the probe exploring whether big-money donors gave money to the committee in the hope of access to - or influence within - the administration or policy concessions.

According to the Journal, the investigation into the inaugural committee partly stemmed from materials seized in a probe into the dealings of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes including orchestrating the hush payments in violation of campaign laws. Check back for updates.

"The names of donors were provided to the FEC and have been public for almost two years and those donors were vetted in accordance with the law and no improprieties have been found regarding the vetting of those donors". "One is a prohibition against foreign donations to an inaugural fund". It said the donors were vetted and no improprieties were found. While criminal charges are unlikely to be brought against the president while in office, it does raise the risk that he could face charges when he leaves the White House.

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Asked about the report, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Reuters news agency the president was not involved in his inaugural committee.

Foreign nations are prohibited from contributing to federal campaigns, PACs and inaugural funds by law.

Specifically, the report stated that federal agents seized the recording of a conversation that Cohen made between himself and former Melania Trump adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

According to the committee's mandatory tax filing, it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings; another $4 million on ticketing; $9 million on travel; and $4.5 million on salaries, wages and other expenses.

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The committee raised more than double what former President Obama's first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. The newspaper reported that federal prosecutors in NY and from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller have questioned witnesses over whether anyone from Middle Eastern countries contributed to the committee.

The Journal said prosecutors are also seeking documents from Franklin Haney, a Tennessee developer who gave $1m to the inaugural committee and later hired Cohen to help him obtain a $5bn USDepartment of Energy loan.

Larry Blust, a lawyer for Haney, declined to comment.

The inquiry is not the first time prosecutors have scrutinized Trump's inauguration. Earlier this year, Gates pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of making false statements to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

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Prosecutors are also questioning Richard Gates, who was the partner of Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, at the time of Trump's election.

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