Trump Inaugural Committee Got Foreign Money, Plea Deal Shows

(Bloomberg) -- A former Paul Manafort associate who pleaded guilty to a lobbying crime admitted that he helped foreign donors give money to President Donald Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

In a plea agreement made public Friday, prosecutors outlined other crimes that the lobbyist, Sam Patten, admitted to but wouldn’t be charged with. Among them was “causing foreign money” to be paid to the Trump inaugural committee. Patten signed off on the allegation.

Patten pleaded guilty earlier Friday to failing to disclose his lobbying on behalf of Ukraine, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

According to a court filing, Patten’s Ukrainian client wanted to attend the Trump inauguration in January 2017, but the Inauguration Committee couldn’t accept money from foreign nationals because of Federal Election Commission rules.

To get around that restriction, Patten enlisted a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw” buyer, according to the filing. That individual, who wasn’t named, bought four tickets for $50,000, after receiving a check for $50,000 from the consulting firm run by Patten and Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s longtime fixer in Ukraine suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence. That firm, in turn, was reimbursed by a $50,000 wire from the Ukrainian oligarch’s Cypriot bank account, the filing says.

It’s unclear whether anyone on the Inaugural Committee was aware that the money came from a Ukrainian, or whether Patten has more to tell investigators about the matter.

“The big question seems to be whether he has testimony to offer about the purpose behind the payments to the inauguration committee,” said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer.

Patten attended one of the inauguration events with the Ukrainian, according to the court filing. The prosecutors’ description of the Ukrainian matches that of Sergei Lyovochkin, a leader of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc whom prosecutors describe as a prominent oligarch. The party’s website says that Lyovochkin was in Washington on Inauguration Day.

The court filings describe other criminal activity by Patten, including obstructing a U.S. Senate inquiry by withholding documents and giving false and misleading testimony to disguise his straw-buyer scheme.

Trump’s Inaugural Committee raised a record $107 million, roughly double the amount collected for the 2008 swearing-in of Barack Obama. The 2016 committee spent about $90 million, including $26 million to an event-planning company headed by a friend of First Lady Melania Trump. Under federal law, the committee was required to disclose to the Federal Election Commission the names of donors who gave more than $200.

Tom Josefiak, a former chief counsel of the Republican National Committee who’s identified as the custodian of the inaugural committee’s records on its federal tax return, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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