Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation team has interviewed several witnesses regarding “millions of dollars” given to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, according to anonymous sources cited by ABC News.
When did the interviews take place?
The interviews took place last year and included longtime Trump friend and confidant Thomas Barrack, "sources with direct knowledge” reportedly told the news outlet.
Barrack is a billionaire real estate investor who “runs a fund with hundreds of millions in real estate and private equity holdings in the Middle East,” according to the report. Barack also oversaw what is called the “largest inaugural fundraising effort in U.S. history,” bringing in $107 million. The figure is more than double what was raised for former President Barack Obama’s first swearing-in ceremony, the report states.
“According to a source who has sat with the Mueller team for interviews in recent weeks,” the story said, “the special counsel is examining donors who have either business or personal connections in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Several donors with those ties contributed large sums to the non-profit fundraising entity — gifts that topped out at $1 million dollars, according to public records.”
Witnesses were questioned about specific donations from American businessmen Leonard Blavatnik and Andrew Intrater, anonymous sources told ABC. Neither man has been accused of any wrongdoing.
Blavatnik is a billionaire with “extensive business ties in Russia,” according to the report. He gave $1 million to the inaugural fund through his company, Access Industries, records reportedly show.
Companies cannot give donations to political candidates. But donations to inaugural committees are not considered donations to candidates.
Intrater is an American relative and business associate of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. He runs a U.S. company “with deep ties to Vekselberg’s Russia-based global conglomerate, Renova Group. Renova was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department,” according to the report.
Intrater is also the CEO of Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment company that made a $250,000 donation to the Trump inauguration committee in January 2017, according to ABC News. His additional donations reportedly include a 2017 donation of $35,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign and Republican Party. Additionally, he gave $29,600 to the Republican National Committee, according to Federal Election Commission Records.
Earlier this month, Vekselberg, a Russian national, was questioned by the Mueller team after exiting his private jet at a New York-area airport, the New York Times reported.
What does this mean?
What does all of this mean? ABC News says it’s “unclear.”
“Why these individuals would be of interest to the Mueller team remains unclear,” the report states. “The expanded probe sheds light on a possible growing area of interest to the Mueller investigation."
The Mueller investigation so far has led to nearly 20 indictments, the report states. That includes former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates.