U.S. prosecutors probe Trump inauguration spending

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The Trump administration and the president's inaugural committee said Thursday they had no knowledge of a reported investigation by federal prosecutors into whether the committee misspent some of the money it raised to stage Trump's swearing-in a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal, which also reported that prosecutors were looking at donations to the inaugural fund, said there was no sign that the investigation was targeting Barrack.

Federal election law requires a cooling-off period of at least 120 days before campaign staff members join a political committee backing the same candidate, but Manafort dispatched two friends from the campaign, Laurance Gay and Ken McKay, to run the operation.

According to the paper, the investigation arose in part out of materials seized as part of the federal investigation into Michael Cohen, Trump's onetime personal attorney. During a raid of Cohen's properties in April, a recorded conversation between him and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to first lady Melania, was seized, according to the newspaper. In the conversation Wolkoff, one of the main producers of the 20 January 2017 inauguration celebrations, is alleged to have "expressed concern" about how the inaugural committee was spending the money it had raised.

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The Journal reports that Manhattan-based prosecutors are in the "early stages" of a criminal investigation into how the record sum for such a presidential inauguration was used, as well as whether huge donations were made in return for easy access to the Trump administration as it entered power.

Investigators interviewed former Trump campaign aide and inaugural committee deputy chair Rick Gates in connection with the probe, asking him about "the fund's spending and its donors". "We simply have no evidence the investigation exists".

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.

It said that the chair of Trump's inaugural committee, Thomas Barrack Jr, who was interviewed by Mueller's office previous year, had met wealthy individuals close to the governments of both Qatar and the UAE.

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A spokesman for the Manhattan US attorney's office declined to comment.

Prosecutors also are probing the finances of Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump super PAC that raised $23 million, according to The Times. Some of the fund's top donors, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has examined whether any foreign money came into the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign contributions.

Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the USA involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign in February.

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On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress about Trump's past business dealings in Russian Federation.

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