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SDNY probes Trump inaugural spending, Cohen helps follow the money



On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors at the Manhattan US attorney’s office are in the early stages of a criminal investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee misspent some of the $107 million it raised from donations.

Prosecutors are also reportedly looking into whether the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the White House, policy platforms that favored them, or to influence incoming administration positions.

According to the Journal, part of the investigation stems from what prosecutors found when they seized documents and materials from the property of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former longtime lawyer, in April.

The report said that among those materials was a recording of a conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania Trump who worked on the inaugural events.

In the recording, the Journal reported, Wolkoff expressed concern about how the committee was spending the money it had raised. It’s unclear when the conversation took place.

Cohen is quickly emerging as one of the most dangerous cooperators against Trump as federal prosecutors close in on the White House.

He pleaded guilty this year to charges stemming from two separate investigations. In the first, conducted by the Southern District of New York, Cohen pleaded guilty in August to several counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations, which he said he made at Trump’s direction.

Last month, Cohen also pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen has been cooperating with both offices since the summer.

This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about whether wealthy individuals funneled money to Trump’s inaugural committee to influence the incoming administration after the 2016 election.

Earlier this year, it was reported that eleven days before the inauguration, a prominent Russian oligarch met with Cohen to discuss improving US-Russia relations under Trump.

The Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg met with Cohen at Cohen’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the American businessman Andrew Intrater told The New York Times in May.

Intrater, a relative of Vekselberg who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, is the head of the US investment firm Columbus Nova. The company paid Cohen approximately $500,000 in consulting fees between January and August 2017 and is a subsidiary of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate founded by Vekselberg.

Intrater told The Times that Vekselberg and Cohen met three times. The second time was during Trump’s inauguration, which was attended by at least six Russians aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Vekselberg.

Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now reportedly under the scrutiny of federal investigators.

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