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New York attorney general sues Trump Foundation

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Jan. 23, 2017. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

ALBANY — New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation engaged in “persistently illegal conduct,” serving as a personal piggy bank to settle his debts and boost his presidential campaign.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood, a Democrat, said the Trump Foundation functioned as Trump’s personal “checkbook,” engaging in a pattern of “self-dealing” and “illegal coordination with the Trump presidential campaign.”

In the far-reaching lawsuit, she alleged violations of charities, tax and election laws. Instead of benefiting charitable activities as foundations are required, the Trump Foundation was used “repeatedly and illegally” to benefit “Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests,” Underwood claimed.

“The petition filed today alleges 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 nonprofit foundations,” Underwood said.

Not only does the lawsuit target the foundation, but also names the president, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and daughter Ivanka, personally. The suit seeks $2.8 million in restitution, the dissolution of the foundation and a ban on Trump leading any other charitable organization for 10 years.

Minutes after the lawsuit was announced, Trump took to Twitter to claim the lawsuit was brought by “sleazy New York Democrats,” call it a “ridiculous case,” and declare “I won’t settle this case.”

But he didn’t address any of the specific allegations made by Underwood.

Neither did the Trump Foundation, though it did claim it donated more to charity than it took in. In a statement sent to media outlets, the foundation echoed the president in calling the lawsuit “politics at its very worst.”

One of the specific claims made by Underwood revolves around a televised fundraiser Trump held shortly before the 2016 Iowa caucuses. Trump had skipped a Republican debate and instead announced he was staging the event to raise money for veterans. But, according to emails Underwood included as evidence in the lawsuit, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directed the timing and distribution of any proceeds — some of which were handed out just before the caucuses.

That action violated election laws prohibiting a charity acting in coordination with a political campaign, the attorney general said.

The “Trump Foundation raised in excess of $2.8 million in a manner designed to influence the 2016 presidential election at the direction and under the control of senior leadership of the Trump presidential campaign,” Underwood said.

She also alleged a string of “self-dealing” transactions executed by the foundation. These included a “$100,000 payment to settle legal claims against Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort regarding code violations; a $158,000 payment to settle legal claims by a golfer who said Trump National Golf Club reneged a $1 million prize for a hole-in-one contest in 2008; and a $10,000 payment at charity auction to purchase a painting of Mr. Trump at the Trump National Doral in Miami.”

Several of the transactions cited by Underwood were first reported by The Washington Post.

Underwood also said the foundation’s board existed in “name only” and hadn’t met since 1999, underscoring her allegation that it was controlled by Trump alone. In a deposition included in the filing, Allen Weisselberg, who is listed as the foundation’s treasurer, told an investigator he wasn’t even aware he was a board member.

Trump sought to link the lawsuit to a longtime adversary, former New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who had initiated the investigation of the foundation in 2016.

Schneiderman, a Democrat, had won a settlement alleging illegalities at “Trump University” and had sued the president over numerous policies. Schneiderman resigned his post last month after allegations of sexual assault; the State Legislature elected Underwood to replace him.

Trump falsely stated Schneiderman “ran” Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in New York and alleged that this investigation has been lingering in the attorney general’s office.

“Now he resigned his office in disgrace, and his disciples brought it when we would not settle,” Trump wrote.

The allegations

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued President Donald Trump, alleging he misused a charitable foundation to pay personal debts and benefit his political campaign.

The allegations include that Trump Foundation was used to:

  • Pay $158,000 to end a lawsuit by a man who claimed the Trump National Golf Club reneged on a $1 million award in a hole-in-one contest.
  • Pay $10,000 to purchase a portrait of Trump to decorate one of his golf courses.
  • Direct money generated at a televised fundraiser before the 2016 Iowa caucus to promote his presidential candidacy.
  • Pay $100,000 to settle code violations at Trump’s Palm Beach residence.

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