ABC News came out with an exclusive today that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into potential issues with foreign entities making donations to the inauguration that took place for President Donald J. Trump in January 2017. This could spell additional legal trouble for the president and administration.
At issue is “millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee last year.” Russian connections are being reviewed, but also Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Those interviewed include Trump’s close adviser, Thomas Barrack. The gifts that Mueller is focused on top out at $1 million. One person also being asked about is Andrew Intrater, and another piece of the overall puzzle may just have fallen into place.
For those that have been following Michael Avenatti’s disclosure of potential funding sources of Essential Consultants LLC, the entity formed by the Michael Cohen who has been described by others and himself as “Donald Trump’s personal attorney” and by others as Trump’s “Fixer.” Essential received a large sum of money from Columbus Nova, which has ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Vekselberg is a close confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin and chairman of asset manager Renova Group. Vekselberg is in turn is cousins with Intrater.
Renova was the target of the sanctions recently imposed by the United States Treasury Department. Viewers of the inauguration might recall seeing the cousins at the inauguration, which many questioned- why would Russian operatives be attending the inauguration of the United States president?
The fact Mueller is reviewing the cousins as well as the other potential contributions is the campaign finance laws that exist in our country. While Citizens United permitted the flow of unlimited money into politics by corporations, foreign nationals are (at least for present purposes) strictly prohibited from a wide variety of participation. A June 23, 2017, article posted by the FEC provides:
In general, foreign nationals are prohibited from the following activities:
• Making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States;
• Making any contribution or donation to any committee or organization of any national, state, district, or local political party (including donations to a party nonfederal account or office building account);
• Making any disbursement for an electioneering communication;
• Making any donation to a presidential inaugural committee.
The last bullet point makes the inaugural committee donations potentially problematic if there is evidence that, for example, Renova or Vekselberg made those contributions, or any of the other foreign nations. The ABC News exclusive also mentions contributions to the campaign of Trump, the Trump Victory Fund, that would also be criminal under United States Code. Mueller likely is reviewing these large contributions to determine the money flow and if any violations of 52 U.S.C. Section 30121 have occurred. The plot thickens.