There’s another twist in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The New York Times’s Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report that Mueller is looking into a $150,000 payment from a Ukrainian business to Donald Trump’s charitable foundation in 2015 in exchange for a video appearance by then-candidate Trump.
The existence of the payment to the Trump Foundation was reported shortly after the 2016 election; what’s new is that Mueller has reportedly taken an interest in it. It’s the latest hint that Mueller’s probe is looking beyond Russia and is scrutinizing Trump and his associates’ foreign business ties. In March, Mueller subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization, with some reportedly related to Russia.
But apparently not just Russia. According to the New York Times, documents related to this $150,000 payment from Ukrainian steel tycoon Victor Pinchuk were turned over as part of that subpoena. In September 2015, early in the GOP primary race, Pinchuk donated $150,000 to the Trump Foundation. In return, Trump appeared via video conference at an event in Kiev promoting ties between Ukraine and Western countries.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, reportedly solicited the donation from Pinchuk. Cohen’s home, office, and hotel were raided by federal authorities Monday in relation to a payment Cohen made to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. The raid doesn’t seem to be related to the Russia probe, though Cohen hasn’t entirely evaded scrutiny in the special counsel’s investigation.
A few other details stand out about the payment Pinchuk made. First, the six-figure contribution was the largest to the Trump Foundation in 2015 from a source other than Trump himself, according to the Times. Second is the fact that it went to the Trump Foundation — which came under scrutiny during the presidential campaign for its shady practices, specifically documents that showed Trump pulled about a quarter of a million dollars from the foundation’s budget to settle lawsuits related to his business. He also used foundation money to buy this $20,000 portrait of himself.
But again, Trump came under fire for taking the donation when it was first reported in 2016. That’s partly because Pinchuk — a controversial figure and the son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma — was a prominent donor to the Clinton Foundation. Pinchuk gave between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation and reportedly once lent his private plane to the Clintons. (Doug Schoen, a political consultant with ties to Pinchuk, helped arrange Trump’s video appearance, as well as meetings between Pinchuk and State Department officials while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.)
Considering Trump’s rants against “Crooked Hillary,” it’s a bit ironic that Pinchuk is now appearing as a player in Trump’s own political scandal. And while it’s probably no surprise that Pinchuk would want to curry influence and advance his agenda with the president, the donation came early in the GOP primary, long before Trump was the presumptive nominee.
One more notable thing about Pinchuk’s agenda: Pinchuk promoted ties between Ukraine and the West, which runs counter to the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin (and those of the former pro-Russia Ukrainian president that Trump’s former campaign Paul Manafort, whom Mueller has indicted, worked for.) Trump, in his video speech, did mention Putin, saying that the Russian president “does not respect” then-President Barack Obama.
Either way, this latest investigative thread by Mueller will probably do little to abate Trump’s ire at the Russia investigation. On Monday, Trump railed against the special counsel’s probe, calling it a “witch hunt.” When a reporter asked why he didn’t just fire Mueller, Trump replied: “Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace, but I think it’s a sad situation when you look at what happened and many people have said you should fire him.”