New York AG sues Trump, alleging ‘illegal conduct’ at his charity
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit Thursday against President Donald Trump and three of his adult children alleging a pattern of illegal conduct over a decade related to his personal charity.
The allegations — which quickly drew scorn from the president — include unlawful political coordination with his 2016 presidential campaign and self-dealing transactions to benefit Trump’s personal and business interests.
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The suit before the New York Supreme Court grew out of an investigation launched by the Democratic attorney general’s office in June 2016. It also seeks special proceedings from the court to dissolve Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and obtain $2.8 million in restitution and other penalties.
Underwood, who succeeded Eric Schneiderman in May, also sent referral letters Thursday to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission raising possible federal law violations.
“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” Underwood said in a statement. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”
Trump, his son Eric Trump, and the president’s foundation all immediately blasted the lawsuit as politically motivated.
“The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000. I won’t settle this case!” the president tweeted, adding, “Schneiderman, who ran the Clinton campaign in New York, never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case, which lingered in their office for almost 2 years. Now he resigned his office in disgrace, and his disciples brought it when we would not settle.”
“It’s very sad to see good organizations attacked,” Eric Trump, who is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit along with his siblings Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, said in an interview. Eric Trump argued that his father had given millions of dollars of his own money to the charity and donated to “some of the most worthwhile causes that exist.”
“And because of politics, this is how he’s treated,” Eric Trump added.
Trump launched his nonprofit charity in 1987 and served as the foundation’s president until three days after his White House inauguration in January 2017. Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump all became foundation board members in 2006. But while Trump’s sons remain in those positions, Ivanka stepped down with her father when she joined his White House as an adviser.
The foundation has been under a microscope since the presidential campaign, with Schneiderman announcing his investigation in September 2016. A “notice of violation” to the charity followed that same month, and it prevented Trump from following through with his own plans, spelled out in December 2016, to dissolve the charity and donate $1.7 million in remaining proceeds.
In her petition, Underwood highlighted findings from more than two years of investigation in calling the Trump Foundation “little more than an empty shell” with no oversight by a functioning board of directors.
The board had not met since 1999, she wrote, and it still doesn’t have any policy, direction or “any written criteria for the consideration, approval or monitoring of grants, or protocols for assuring compliance with the organization’s governing documents and charitable mission.”
Underwood singled out President Trump, whom she noted was the sole signer for the foundation’s bank accounts and in approving all grants and other payments. Trump had been running the charity “according to his whim, rather than the law,” she said.
The alleged illegalities spilled into the 2016 White House race when the charity’s board “knowingly permitted the Foundation to be coopted by Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign,” Underwood wrote.
Specifically, the New York attorney general pointed to a series of events surrounding a nationally televised charity fundraiser Trump held in Des Moines in late January 2016, a little less than a week before the Iowa caucuses.