Attorney General William Barr has received a waiver to participate in the investigation of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian development company that has come under investigation by the FBI and DOJ for alleged money laundering.
The waiver, dated April 16, allows Barr to participate in “the investigation and litigation of the 1MDB matter in which his former law firm represents an entity involved in the matter.”
Barr was previously a lawyer for the firm Kirkland & Ellis, whose senior partner Mark Filip now represents Goldman Sachs in the 1MDB investigation.
The head of DOJ’s criminal division, Brian Benczkowski, is also a Kirkland & Ellis alum. But White House lawyer Emmet Flood issued an ethics waiver to Benczkowski in November that allowed him to participate in the 1MDB investigation.
The waiver could also give Barr a window into an investigation in the Eastern District of New York that involves the Trump Victory committee, a political action committee dedicated to re-electing Trump in 2020.
Barr has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for his handling of the rollout of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which the attorney general characterized prior to its release with a 4-page memo and press conference that critics panned as public relations stunts for the president.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the United States Attorney's Office in Northern Illinois, told POLITICO he thought Barr should recuse himself from the 1MDB investigation. “Given Barr’s highly questionable handling of the Mueller report rollout, there are appearance issues raised whenever he supervises an investigation involving Trump,” Mariotti said. “He should recuse himself for the good of the Department.”
New York prosecutors are investigating whether Jho Low, a Malaysian fugitive accused of helping to steal around $4.5 billion from 1MDB, illegally donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory committee in December 2017. The prosecutors are also examining potentially illegal donations made by foreign nationals to Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017.
Low was indicted in the Eastern District of New York in October 2018 on money laundering and bribery charges.
The donation itself was made by U.S. citizen Larry Davis, the co-owner of Hawaii investment company LNS Capital, but investigators are scrutinizing whether transfers totaling $1.5 million that originated with Low earlier that year were funneled to the Trump Victory committee, according to the Wall Street Journal. Low has denied the allegations.
“Trump Victory does not accept contributions from corporations or foreign nationals in accordance with the law. We vehemently deny any wrongdoing on the part of the RNC or Trump Campaign," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Cassie Smedile told the Journal.
Low is not the first to come under scrutiny for a potentially illicit donation to Trump. Sam Patten, a Washington operative with ties to Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has acknowledged that he illegally steered a foreign donation to Trump’s inaugural committee. He pleaded guilty to foreign agent registration violations last year and was sentenced to probation.