What We Know About The Big-Time Donor Named In Trump Inaugural Subpoena

February 5, 2019 5:04 p.m.

Only one person’s name was reportedly listed in the subpoena issued Monday to President Trump’s inaugural committee: big-time Los Angeles political fundraiser Imaad Zuberi.

Zuberi is as baffled as the public to learn that New York federal prosecutors are seeking information about him, according to his spokesman.

“If, in fact, he is named in this subpoena – never mind somehow named alone – he is bewildered why,” his spokesman told TPM.

It’s unclear why prosecutors are seeking all communications between the committee and Zuberi, whose firm Avenue Ventures contributed $900,000 to the Trump inaugural committee. Neither Zuberi nor anyone else involved with the committee has been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

But the high-profile donor, who has thrown cash at both Democrats and Republicans, is set to become the subject of intense press scrutiny now that he’s known to be of interest to prosecutors.

The 48-year-old who was born in Albany, New York, and attended USC has come under scrutiny in recent years for failing to disclose the extent of his business ties to foreign governments. He is known in Washington, D.C. circles for bundling hundreds of thousands of dollars to leading Democratic politicians, including the presidential campaigns of former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – attaining the rank of “Hillblazer,” according to one Clinton campaign memo released by Wikileaks.

Zuberi was first mentioned in connection to the Trump inauguration in a December Daily Beast article reporting that he discussed details of high-level inaugural events with Michael Cohen. The Beast reported that Zuberi also spoke with Elliot Broidy, finance vice-chair of the Trump inaugural, about potential business opportunities.

The conversations reported by the Beast suggested Zuberi may have sought to use his substantial inaugural donations as an overture to securing future business with the Trump administration.

In a Tuesday interview with the New York Times, Zuberi said he donated solely as a “networking thing” and that the conversations about a New York real estate venture with Cohen and an artificial intelligence start-up with Broidy yielded no new business.

Zuberi ended up sitting beside Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at one elite inaugural dinner, telling the Times he received 10 tickets to the event. Zuberi told the newspaper he could not remember if he gave Cavusoglu one of his tickets.

The deep-pocketed fundraiser was photographed chatting with Trump at other guests at another dinner for foreign diplomats, where he sat at a table with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and diplomats from Cambodia and Bahrain.

Zuberi also reportedly helped build out the guest list for an inaugural breakfast featuring foreign officials and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). The Beast reported Tuesday that federal prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are looking into that event as part of broader probes into possible pay-to-play arrangements at the inauguration.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office—with help from the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office—is investigating the committee for a host of possible crimes including the use of straw donors to mask illegal foreign donations, wire fraud, election fraud and money laundering.

Zuberi’s political ties long predate the Trump era. According to his LinkedIn, Zuberi served as co-chair of the Obama for America national finance committee from 2007-2016. Zuberi raised more than $100,000 in the early months of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, according to materials hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and released by WikiLeaks. He served as a member of the National Finance Committee at Hillary for America and donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

Federal Election Commission filings show that Zuberi and his wife, Willa Rao Zuberi, have also donated to Republican politicians including former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Zuberi gave tens of thousands of dollars to the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Republican National Committee in the 2018 midterm cycle.

In the 2000s he appears to have established himself in Los Angeles as a venture capitalist. He joined private equity firm Avenue Partners in 2009, and boasts on his LinkedIn page of having “closed over $15 billion in transactions” while at the firm.

The company appears to have attracted former general and onetime presidential candidate Wesley Clark in 2013, who, according to a press release relating to a $700 million investment in a luxury Bahrani resort, served as an advisor to the company.

A 2015 investigation by Foreign Policy found that Zuberi failed to disclose to the Justice Department millions of dollars in payments he took from the Sri Lankan government while lobbying for Sri Lankan interests in Washington.

The Foreign Policy piece painted Zuberi as a top Democratic donor, which he mostly was. But Clinton’s unexpected defeat in 2016 caught politicos on both sides by surprise.

The Boston Globe reported at the time that for GOP donors who had sat out the race, predicting a Trump loss, giving money to the inaugural committee doubled as a way of currying favor.

“Now anybody who wasn’t in, they need to find a way in,” an unnamed donor said at the time.

Zuberi made overtures to Trumpworld after his surprise win.

The Daily Beast reported that he reached out to Cohen about “access to high-level” events at the inaugural, and donated the $900,000 to the committee.

At the same time, the story says, Cohen boasted to Zuberi of access to purported administration plans to drop up to $1 trillion on rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, and reportedly solicited donations from Zuberi to an infrastructure fund.

Zuberi reportedly posted a Facebook update in December 2016 in which he claimed to have been at Trump Tower with soon-to-be National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On that same day, a Qatari delegation reportedly visited the building to meet with Flynn and campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon. It was reportedly on the sidelines of that meeting that Cohen allegedly pitched himself to a Qatari official as a conduit to the administration, for a cool $1 million.

The Daily Beast reported that Zuberi had held meetings with Broidy at the time of the inaugural about possible business. A Zuberi spokesman confirmed that the two knew each other, but said that they didn’t discuss any potential business together until 2018.

The spokesman brushed aside any suggestion that the meetings were significant, and said that the two have known each other from Los Angeles for years.

This post has been updated.

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