New subpoena signals Trump’s legal woes will outlast Mueller

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WASHINGTON | The Russia investigation may be winding down, but President Donald Trump’s legal problems are far from over.

FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2017 file photo, Donald Trump, left, is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts, right, as Melania Trump, second left, and his family watch during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. A federal subpoena seeking documents from Donald Trump’s inaugural committee is part of “a hysteria” over the fact that he’s president, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Federal prosecutors in New York issued the subpoena on Monday, furthering a federal inquiry into a fund that has faced mounting scrutiny into how it raised and spent its money. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

A sweeping subpoena served on Trump’s inaugural committee Monday is just the latest sign that his presidency will continue to be shadowed by federal prosecutors looking into all things Trump long after special counsel Robert Mueller submits his report on possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Here’s a look at some of the legal troubles hanging over the president:

WHAT’S UNDER INVESTIGATION?

Several entities connected to the president by several different prosecutors. It generally breaks down like this:

Mueller is handling Russia. That includes looking into the Trump campaign and any potential coordination with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York is looking into potential campaign finance violations related to hush money payments arranged by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. They are also scrutinizing the Presidential Inaugural Committee, looking for any illegal foreign donations or favors given in exchange for contributions.

WHAT’S THIS LATEST PROBE OF THE INAUGURAL COMMITTEE ABOUT?

Foreign money, political favors and how the Presidential Inaugural Committee spent the nearly $107 million it raised.

According to a subpoena served on the committee Monday, prosecutors want all of the committee’s donation records including any showing donors received “benefits” after making contributions. The subpoena also shows that prosecutors are looking at whether the committee violated federal law by accepting foreign contributions or in how it paid vendors.

Inaugural committees are barred from accepting foreign donations. They also must report their donors, meaning that if the committee had contributors pay vendors directly without passing the money through the committee, it could violate public disclosure laws.

The committee has not been formally accused of wrongdoing and the subpoena does not name the head of the inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, or any other members of the inaugural committee. Through a spokeswoman, the committee said it plans to cooperate.

HAVE ANY CRIMES RELATED TO THE INAUGURATION SURFACED SO FAR?

Yes. In a criminal case referred by Mueller’s office, Washington lobbyist W. Samuel Patten admitted that he participated in a scheme to circumvent the ban on foreign contributions to the inaugural committee.

As part of a plea deal, Patten said he lined up an unidentified American to serve as a straw donor to conceal that $50,000 paid to the committee for event tickets came from a wealthy Ukrainian businessman.

WHAT’S THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE INVESTIGATION ABOUT?

It all goes back to a porn star, a former Playboy playmate and efforts to keep allegations of Trump extramarital affairs quiet.

Prosecutors in New York have been looking into reimbursements the Trump Organization made to Cohen for $130,000 in hush money he paid to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels during the election. They have also been scrutinizing an arrangement Cohen made on Trump’s behalf with the publisher of the National Enquirer. As part of that deal, the publication helped Trump’s presidential bid by paying $150,000 to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to buy and bury her story.

Prosecutors have been scrutinizing whether the payments amounted to illegal contributions to the campaign, which didn’t report them on public filings.

Trump initially denied knowing about the payments. But Cohen — in pleading guilty to campaign finance violations — said Trump personally directed him to make them. The president has since acknowledged the payments but said any legal liability lies with Cohen, not him.

In an agreement announced late year, prosecutors agreed not to prosecute the publisher, American Media Inc., in exchange for continued cooperation. The Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TRUMP?

It’s going to be a rough road for a while.

It’s not clear yet whether Trump has any personal legal exposure in the probe of the inaugural committee. But prosecutors are looking at any favors given in exchange for donations, which could lead to scrutiny of his White House or others around him.

The more direct threat to Trump comes from Cohen, his former lawyer who implicated Trump in campaign finance violations. And there’s also the remaining unknown of what Mueller will say in his report.

Still, it’s unlikely Trump will face any charges while in office because the Justice Department has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted.