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The Russia investigation has long since branched out and now, authorities’ inquiries into the Trump team even cover the Trump inaugural committee. The New York Times shared this week that in a subpoena New York federal prosecutors slapped the committee with this past Monday, they zeroed in on one particular major donor — Imaad Zuberi, who was the only one to actually be named in the wide-ranging subpoena. Prosecutors did not explicitly indicate why they were specifically interested in Zuberi and his investment firm, Avenue Ventures.
Still, Zuberi has done plenty to attract scrutiny in the past. The Times describes his political donations as often “baldly transactional.” He financially supported the Democrats in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, and was even among the very first donors to the Hillary Victory Fund back in 2015 — but in the months following Donald Trump’s surprise victory, he poured massive amounts of money into the Republican Party. He donated $100,000 to the committee behind the 2016 Republican National Convention half a year after that convention actually happened, and he gave $900,000 to the committee handling the Trump inauguration, which brought in a record haul of donations twice the size of the cash flow that Barack Obama’s first inauguration dealt with, finishing with some $107 million.
After Zuberi donated so significantly to the Republican Party, he enjoyed special access to the Trump team. Besides appearing alongside Trump himself, he was photographed with eventual Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, eventual — and now former — Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus. In the weeks after Trump’s inauguration, he was also photographed with Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn — but Zuberi’s spokesman Steve Rabinowitz insists his client only encountered Flynn by chance and asked to take a selfie.
During the time that photo was taken, Flynn was operating as essentially a secret agent of the Turkish government and a pawn of the Kremlin, having secretly coordinated policy with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak.
The scope of Zuberi’s access keeps going. During inauguration festivities, he was seated next to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at an “elite candlelight dinner” which Zuberi received ten tickets for, and at another dinner, he sat with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and diplomats from Cambodia, Cameroon, and Bahrain. Zuberi uses these connections to expand his business, pursuing projects in at least Bahrain and Turkey — and sometimes becoming an agent of the foreign government itself. In 2015, the Sri Lankan government dished out $6.5 million for services that included seeking to influence the U.S. government in their favor.
Despite these various threads, there remains no immediate indication of what prosecutors actually have their eyes on. They’ve been reportedly looking into whether foreign money flowed into the Trump inaugural committee — which is illegal — but Zuberi is an American citizen and his spokesman insisted he only dealt with his own — not foreign — money.
Authorities have been reported to also be looking into possible conspiracy to defraud the U.S., mail fraud, false statements, and money laundering associated with the Trump inauguration committee.