A hefty donation to Trump's inaugural comes under scrutiny - Albuquerque Journal

A hefty donation to Trump’s inaugural comes under scrutiny

WASHINGTON — Real estate mogul Franklin Haney contributed $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and all he’s got to show for the money is the glare of a federal investigation.

The contribution from Haney, a prolific political donor, came as he was seeking regulatory approval and financial support from the government for his long-shot bid to acquire the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Alabama. More than two years later, he still hasn’t closed the deal.

His tale is a familiar one in Washington, where lobbyists and wealthy donors use their checkbooks to try to sway politicians. It’s a world Haney is accustomed to operating in and one that Trump came into office pledging to upend. Yet Trump has left in place many of the familiar ways to wield influence.

Haney’s hefty donation to Trump’s inaugural committee is being scrutinized by federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating the committee’s finances. Their probe is focused in part on whether donors received benefits after making contributions.

Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has given prosecutors information regarding Haney, his son and business associate, Frank Haney Jr., and the nuclear plant project, according to a person familiar with what Cohen told the authorities. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Haney had briefly hired Cohen to help obtain money for the Bellefonte project from potential investors, including the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

Haney and his attorney did not respond to interview requests.

Prosecutors also are examining whether foreigners unlawfully contributed to the committee. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan issued a subpoena last year seeking a wide range of financial records from the committee, including any “communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals.”

The inaugural committee has denied wrongdoing and said its funds were fully accounted for.

Haney, 79, has previously faced accusations that his political gift giving is aimed at cultivating influence. An investigation by House Republicans in the late 1990s alleged that Haney’s money and his political pull with senior Clinton administration officials helped him to get the Federal Communications Commission to move into an office building that he had a major stake in. Haney denied any wrongdoing and the Justice Department declined to pursue the matter.

But he was charged in 1999 with funneling about $100,000 in illegal contributions to President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other politicians, then acquitted. A federal prosecutor described Haney as a sophisticated fundraiser who hoped to impress potential business clients with his access to elected officials, like Clinton and Gore.

Haney’s family-owned real estate business donated thousands of dollars in 2013 and 2015 to political action committees that supported Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who later recommended that the nuclear plant Haney wanted to buy be put up for sale. Haney also contributed to a nonprofit created to promote Bentley’s agenda. The Republican governor resigned in 2017 as he faced impeachment proceedings after an alleged affair with an aide.

In addition to the investigation into Haney’s contribution to the Trump inaugural committee, Haney is in an unrelated legal battle with the nuclear plant’s owner, the Tennessee Valley Authority. Another Haney company, Nuclear Development LLC, has filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the TVA, the nation’s largest public utility, of illegally blocking the plant’s sale to him at the last minute. The utility has argued it couldn’t complete the transaction because Haney failed to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval for transfer of the construction permits.

A tentative Bellefonte sale in November 2016 involved two partially constructed nuclear reactors and the supporting cooling towers, several other buildings and more than 1,000 acres of land on the Tennessee River. Haney put down $22 million and had until November 2018 to complete the $111-million sale.

On Nov. 29, the day before the sale was to be closed, the TVA scrapped the deal, declaring that Haney’s company had not yet secured regulatory approval as required by the Atomic Energy Act. Haney filed a breach of contract lawsuit.

In early April, about five months after Nuclear Development submitted its application for transfer of the construction permits, the regulatory commission’s staff told the company it needed to submit more technical details before it could proceed.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear power expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the response reflected skepticism about whether Haney’s company “is serious about or capable of actually undertaking this project or just wants to put the license in its pocket for purposes unknown.”

But Lyman added the five-member nuclear regulatory board is dominated by Trump appointees and may not want to be seen by Congress and the Trump administration as throwing up roadblocks to a nuclear power expansion.

Haney’s Nuclear Development company also has applied to the U.S. Energy Department for financing assistance on the project. The department said it considers the loan application process to be “business sensitive” and declined to comment.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Haney faces too many technical and financial hurdles to overcome.

For example, Bellefonte’s never-completed nuclear reactors are decades old and are of a unique design that has never received an operating license in the U.S. before. He compared Bellefonte to a Ford Pinto, a 1970s-era vehicle with serious engineering flaws. Smith said it’s “extraordinarily unlikely” Bellefonte will be allowed to operate.

___

Associated Press writer Jim Mustian in New York and researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Central Texas wildfire still in check; no structures damaged
Around the Region
Firefighters were mopping up a Central ... Firefighters were mopping up a Central Texas wildfire Thursday after holding it in check for a day with no structures reported damaged or persons ...
2
Arizona bill would ban transgender girls, women from teams
Around the Region
Transgender girls and women would be ... Transgender girls and women would be barred from competing on the high school or college sports team that aligns with their gender identity under ...
3
Police: Missing Phoenix woman found dead in western Arizona
Around the Region
A Phoenix woman reported missing Sunday ... A Phoenix woman reported missing Sunday was found dead Thursday in a remote area of western Arizona, authorities said. Phoenix police said investigators discovered ...
4
NTSB releases preliminary report on fatal Marana plane crash
Around the Region
The National Transportation Safety Board on ... The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released its preliminary report on last month's fatal crash of a small plane in southern Arizona, but ...
5
Grijalva announces 2nd COVID-19 infection
Around the Region
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva has contracted ... U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva has contracted COVID-19 for the second time. The Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said Thursday ...
6
Buckeye police say 3-year-old boy died from a medical ...
Around the Region
Police in the Phoenix suburb of ... Police in the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye said the death of a 3-year-old boy at a home was due to a medical issue. They ...
7
Woman acquitted in protest of border wall construction
Around the Region
A Tohono O'odham woman was found ... A Tohono O'odham woman was found not guilty Wednesday on federal misdemeanor charges stemming from her protest of border wall construction on her tribe's ...
8
Lawsuit says police used stun gun on 78-year-old man
Around the Region
A 79-year-old man who says he ... A 79-year-old man who says he suffers from medical and emotional health issues has filed an excessive-force lawsuit alleging that a suburban Denver police ...
9
Snowboarder dies after crashing into tree at Aspen Highlands
Around the Region
A 42-year-old snowboarder died after crashing ... A 42-year-old snowboarder died after crashing into a tree at Colorado's Aspen Highlands Ski Area. Pitkin County sheriff's officials say the man, whose name ...