Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors are looking into whether foreign countries donated to President Donald Trump's inauguration committee in return for influence into U.S. policy, reports said Friday.
The New York Times wrote that the focus of the investigation is looking at the possibility of countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar using what is called "straw donors" to cloak their donations into two funds -- the president's inauguration fund and a pro-Trump super PAC. The Wall Street Journal has also published a report on the investigation, which it said is being conducted by the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office.
The super PAC Rebuilding America Now was created in the summer of 2016 when Trump's presidential campaign funds started to bottom out. Paul Manafort suggested that billionaire and close Trump friend Thomas J. Barrack Jr. help raise money for it.
Barrack would go on to later served as chairman of Trump's inaugural committee. The billionaire has denied any wrongdoing.
"Tom has never talked with any foreign individual or entity for the purposes of raising money for or obtaining donations related to either the campaign, the inauguration or any such political activity," Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Barrack, said.
CNBC reported in October that Barrack, a Lebanese American, eventually became one of the lead business figures who helped raise funds for Trump during the campaign. The owner of Colony Capital with some $34 billion in assets also has strong ties with the Middle East, with $200 million invested into the region.
Prosecutors investigating Trump have reportedly asked witnesses whether anyone from Qatar or other Middle Eastern countries also contributed money, perhaps using U.S. intermediaries.
They also have asked about a Mediterranean cruise that Barrack and Manafort took after Manafort was fired in August 2016 from the Trump campaign because of a scandal over his previous work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
Both men reportedly met with wealthy former Qatar prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Trump's inaugural fund would later raise $107 million, some four times as much as the pro-Trump political action committee and double the amount raised for President Barack Obama during his first inauguration.