Donald Trump has bragged plenty about his charitable giving, but like nearly every aspect of the president's life, his nonprofit foundation is rife with corruption. Most of the reporting on the Trump Foundation took place during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, when it was discovered that the money it brought in had been used for everything from purchasing a six-foot-tall portrait of Trump for $20,000 to paying the $7 it cost Donald Jr. to register for the Boy Scouts. So extensive was the misuse of charitable funds that David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the subject. Though Trump went on to become president anyway, the New York attorney general's office launched an investigation into the foundation's practices, and on Thursday it filed a massive complaint against Trump and his family.
Alleging "a pattern of persistent illegal conduct, occurring over more than a decade, that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations," the suit seeks $2.8 million and other penalties. It also aims to dissolve the Trump Foundation, and to prevent Trump from holding a position with a New York nonprofit for 10 years, and for Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump to be barred from serving on the board of a New York nonprofit for one year.
The president was not pleased.
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!...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2018
....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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2018
The Trump Foundation released a statement in response to the lawsuit, as well. As Kenneth Vogel of the New York Times points out, the email address used to distribute the statement came from the Trump Organization, not the Trump Foundation. David Fahrenthold subsequently reminded his followers that the Trump Foundation has no staff of its own, and that most of its business is handled through the Trump Organization.
NOTABLE: The TRUMP FOUNDATION statement pushing back on the @NewYorkStateAG lawsuit alleging the Trump Organization improperly controlled the Trump Foundation came from a Trump Org email address. pic.twitter.com/ddpItwipti— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) June 14, 2018
"AG Underwood believes that anyone who breaks our state’s charities laws should be held accountable, no matter their position," Amy Spitalnick, the press secretary for the New York A.G.'s office, tells Rolling Stone.
Longtime New York solicitor general Barbara Underwood was named the state's attorney general after Eric Schneiderman, who had held the position since 2011, resigned last month following accusations of sexual misconduct.
In 2013, Schneiderman sued Trump for using Trump University to defraud thousands of Americans. As with the latest suit brought by the attorney general, Trump said he would not settle. Nevertheless, shortly after he was elected in November 2016, Trump settled to the tune of $25 million, citing his duties as president.
The suit filed Thursday cites several instances of the Trump Foundation blatantly misusing its funds, many of the instances similar to what has already been reported. In 2012, for instance, a man hit a hole-in-one at one of Trump's golf clubs that promised to pay out $1 million to anyone who could accomplish the feat. The man was never paid, he sued and Trump used his foundation to pay him off. But there was a catch: the Trump foundation routed the money through the lucky winner's own charitable foundation. Settling legal issues by sending money to other nonprofits was a common workaround used by the Trump Foundation. It also paid a charity called the Fisher House Foundation $100,000 to quell a dispute between Mar-a-Lago and the city of Palm Beach.
The suit also highlights coordination between the Trump Foundation and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. When he was Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski and other campaign officials oversaw much of the foundation's financial dealings. When Trump skipped a Republican debate in Iowa to hold a fundraiser for veterans, the money raised was explicitly managed by campaign officials, a violation of federal law.
"The Fundraiser, which solicited donations from members of the public, including New York residents, reaped approximately $5.6 million in tax free donations," the suit claims. "Of that total, $2.823 million was contributed to the Foundation." The $2.83 million retained by the foundation was then used to aid Trump's campaign, not veterans.
The NY AG just posted additional documentation in support of its lawsuit.— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) June 14, 2018
This email exchange shows that Trump campaign staff, with explicit approval from Trump himself, were dictating the recipients of Trump Foundation grants pic.twitter.com/wBC70UlNyJ
Though Trump said after the suit was filed that he will not settle, it would stand to reason that if he settled the Trump University suit because of his presidential duties, he should probably settle this one for the same reason. The president probably has a little more on his plate now than he did in December 2016, before he even took office. Then again, Trump might feel like he has a little more free time to handle legal entanglements now that he's solved the world's nuclear arms crisis.