Federal prosecutors in New York on Monday delivered a sweeping request for documents related to donations and spending by President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, a sign of a deepening criminal investigation into activities related to the nonprofit organization.
A wide-ranging subpoena served on the inaugural committee Monday seeks an array of documents, including all information related to inaugural donors, vendors, contractors, bank accounts of the inaugural committee and any information related to foreign contributors to the committee, according to a copy reviewed by The Washington Post.
Only U.S. citizens and legal residents can legally donate to a committee established to finance presidential inaugural festivities.
“We have just received a subpoena for documents,” a spokesman for the committee said. “While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry.”
The subpoena – issued by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York – indicates that prosecutors are investigating crimes related to conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, false statements, wire fraud and money laundering.
The subpoena also specifically seeks all communications with one donor, Los Angeles venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi, as well as the firm with which he is affiliated, Avenue Ventures. The company donated $900,000 to the inaugural committee, records show.
Steve Rabinowitz, a spokesman for Zuberi, said in a telephone interview that Zuberi knew nothing about the subpoena until a reporter contacted him.
“It is well known that after supporting President Obama and Hillary Clinton that Imaad gave generously and directly to the Trump inaugural,” Rabinowitz said. “But many others gave substantially more. If in fact he is named in this subpoena, never mind somehow named alone, he is bewildered why.”
When asked whether there was any foreign connection to Zuberi’s donation, Rabinowitz said: “There is no connection of any other individual or entity, and for sure not a foreign one. He gave his own money.”
Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $107 million to fund events and parties surrounding his assumption of office in January 2017, more than twice the amount raised to fund President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural.
Contributions were made by a wide array of corporate interests and wealthy Trump supporters, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The committee was chaired by real estate developer Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump. Barrack, who is not mentioned by name in the subpoena, declined to comment.
The request for documents, which was first reported by ABC News, is a sign of another widening legal headache for Trump, whose business, personal charitable foundation and campaign are under investigation by state and federal authorities.
The latest subpoena seeks information related to broad topics, including information about benefits provided to top donors, training documents for fundraisers, and information related to any payments made directly by donors to vendors.
Much of the committee’s fundraising and operation was headed by Rick Gates, a former senior Trump campaign official who served as a deputy chairman of the inaugural committee and is cooperating with prosecutors as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Gates, a longtime associate of former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty in February 2019 to various charges related to his work with Manafort as a political consultant in Ukraine.
At Manafort’s trial in Virginia in August, Gates testified that it was “possible” that he stole money from the inaugural committee by submitting false expense reports for his work.
After Trump’s election, Zuberi swiftly emerged as a major contributor to the new president and Republicans. Along with the $900,000 his firm Avenue Ventures gave to the inaugural committee on Dec. 28, 2016, it donated an additional $100,000 to the host committee for the 2016 Republican National Convention on Jan. 13, 2017, campaign finance records show.
The donation came months after the Cleveland convention and just days before Trump took office.
In the first two years of the Trump administration, Zuberi gave more than $467,000 to the president’s re-election committee and the Republican National Committee, records show.
Zuberi’s support for Trump marked a swift reversal for a financier who had been a major Democratic giver.
In the 2016 election, he gave more than $615,000 to a joint fundraising committee between Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party, records show. Four years earlier, he had contributed more than $77,000 to a committee raising funds for Obama’s re-election and the party.
Internal Democratic emails released by WikiLeaks in October 2016 show that Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta met with Zuberi in September 2015 to thank him for his support of Clinton.
The internal Podesta memo is part of a cache of hacked emails that prosecutors have said were stolen by Russian operatives and provided to WikiLeaks in an effort to help elect Trump.
On his Facebook page, Zuberi indicated that he visited Trump Tower in New York in December 2016 as the president-elect prepared to take office, writing that he was with incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn.
That was the same day that a delegation from Qatar, including the county’s foreign minister, visited Trump Tower and met with Flynn and campaign CEO Stephen Bannon.
Rabinowitz said Zuberi met with the Qataris that day, walked with them to Trump Tower and rode up the elevator with them but did not participate in their meetings with Trump officials.
Zuberi indicated on his Facebook page that he met with the Qatari foreign minister at the Plaza Hotel in New York the following day. Days later, he visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, his Facebook posts show.
The inaugural committee has also been scrutinized by the special counsel, whose prosecutors have explored the possibility that foreign money helped fund Trump’s inaugural festivities, according to people familiar with the inquiry.
It is not clear whether Mueller is still investigating the committee or whether he referred the case to other prosecutors to explore further. In August, prosecutors in Washington charged lobbyist Sam Patten, who would plead guilty to acting as an unregistered federal agent for a Ukrainian political party. As part of a plea deal, Patten acknowledged that he steered an illegal foreign donation to Trump’s inaugural committee, using an American straw donor.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish