Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day just got worse with the news reported by The New York Times regarding the latest focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
According to three people with knowledge of the inquiry, Mueller is looking at a payment made to President Trump’s charitable foundation by a Ukrainian steel industry mogul as payment for a 20-minute video appearance by Trump to a conference while he was still seeking the Republican nomination.
The latest subject of Mueller’s exhaustive exploration of the Trump campaign’s finances stems from a trove of documents subpoenaed from the Trump Organization in the Special Counsel’s examination of the flow of foreign cash to the president’s coffers during the run up to the election.
Somewhere in the massive pile of documents, investigators came across a record of a $150,000 donation made by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for relatively short video link appearance by Trump in September 2015 to a conference in Kiev.
In a detail that may or may not be related to the FBI raid on his home and offices today, the donation was solicited by Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and was the largest donation made to the foundation by anyone outside of the Trump family.
According to the Times:
“the payment from Mr. Pinchuk ‘is curious because it comes during a campaign and is from a foreigner and looks like an effort to buy influence,’ said Marcus S. Owens, a former head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt organizations. He called the donation ‘an unusual amount of money for such a short speech.’”
Mueller’s probe into whether any foreign sources were contributing to Trump’s campaign and into the president’s use of money from his charitable foundation, which he has been documented as using to pay legal settlements and to buy a life-sized portrait of himself rather than to donate to charity, is sure to be the source of great consternation to the president and his dwindling legal team.
The Ukrainian steel magnate who made the donation, Victor Pinchuk, is the son-in-law of Leonid Kuchma, the former president of Ukraine who from 1994 to 2005 led a government noted for corruption, nepotism and the murder of dissident journalists.
Ironically, the Ukrainian billionaire has been accused by U.S. steel makers of illegally dumping steel on the American market at artificially low prices, one of the principal reasons that President Trump has decided to impose tariffs on foreign steel manufacturers.
Pinchuk’s own foundation issued a statement saying that it invited Trump to help “promote strengthened and enduring ties between Ukraine and the West,” and claims that, since Trump had not yet clinched the Republican nomination at that point, that the donation could not be seen as an attempt at influencing presidential politics.
Mueller and his investigators may have a different opinion on that, especially given the close ties between Trump’s indicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Ukrainian government.
If the president does sit down to be interviewed by Mueller, a proposition currently being negotiated between the Special Counsel and Trump’s legal advisors, it will surely be a topic that will have to be explored.