Feds investigating whether Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE funneled cash into inauguration and pro-Trump super PAC: NYT
Donald Trump speaks to Fox News (screen grab)

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Middle Eastern countries funneled donations to a pro-Trump super PAC and his inauguration in the hopes of "buying influence over American policy," The New York Timesreported Thursday evening.

"The inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds," The Times reported. "Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds."

The super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was funded by billionaire financier Tom Barrack, Jr. -- a close friend of Trump who also chaired the inauguration.

"The super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was formed in the summer of 2016 when Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign was short of cash and out of favor with many major Republican donors. While Mr. Trump insisted that he could finance his own campaign, he refused to dig too deeply into his own pockets," The Times explained. "According to several of the people familiar with the investigation, Paul Manafort, who then headed the campaign, suggested that Mr. Barrack step into the void by creating and raising funds for the political action committee, which could raise unlimited amounts of money as long as it avoided coordinating closely with the candidate."

The investigation appears to involve the U.S. Attorneys offices in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.