President attacks ‘sleazy Democrats’ as lawsuit filed against Trump foundation
The US president rounded on “sleazy New York Democrats” yesterday, after the state’s attorney general announced it was suing the Donald J Trump Foundation, Donald Trump and three of his children for violating state charity laws.
The lawyer, Barbara Underwood, a democrat, said the Trump Foundation “was little more than a cheque book for payments from Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality”.
The lawsuit, filed on the morning of the president’s 72nd birthday, seeks $2.8m in restitution and penalties from Trump and asks for distribution of $1m in assets to other charities.
Foundation assets, got via tax-deductible donations, were used to settle legal claims against a Trump golf club and buy a painting of Trump for display at another club, the suit alleges.
Trump responded on Twitter: “The sleazy New York Democrats and their now disgraced (and run out of town) AG 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 lawsuit also seeks to dissolve the Trump Foundation and bar the Trumps from serving on the boards of any charitable organisation – Trump senior for 10 years and Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric for one year.
If Trump does not settle, there could be a trial, which would cast a prolonged spotlight on the Trump Organisation’s inner workings and probably require his personal involvement.
A statement from the Trump Foundation called the move “politics at its very worst”, and painted Underwood as a partisan apparatchik.
Underwood, a former acting US solicitor general, was promoted last month after her predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, resigned in disgrace. The lawsuit alleges that the foundation engaged in at least five self-dealing transactions that were unlawful because they benefited Mr Trump or businesses he controls.
“These include a $100,000 payment to settle legal claims against Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, $158,000 to settle legal claims against Trump National Golf Club, and $10,000 to purchase a painting of Mr Trump.”
Money used to pay those bills came not from Trump but from would-be charitable donors who paid into the foundation, the lawsuit says. “Since 2008 … Trump has not contributed any personal funds to the foundation, which instead has been supported by donations from [others]. The foundation is little more than an empty shell that functions with no oversight from its board of directors. Trump ran the foundation according to whim rather than law.”
The lawsuit follows an investigation of the Trump Foundation begun in 2016 under Schneiderman. That investigation followed the Pulitzer prize-winning work of the Washington Post journalist David Farenthold and others.
Episodes of alleged wrongdoing highlighted by the lawsuit include a charity fundraiser that Trump held on 28 January 2016 when he was a presidential candidate. The lawsuit alleges that a Trump Foundation filing, which claimed the event was “to raise funds for veterans’ organisations” was false, because “the fundraiser was a Trump campaign event in which the Foundation participated”.
Underwood said in a statement: “In violation of state and federal law senior Trump campaign staff dictated the timing, amounts and recipients of grants by the foundation to non-profits.”
Schneiderman has sued the Trump Organisation on multiple fronts. Trump, shortly before his inauguration, settled a fraud case brought against Trump University by the state attorney general’s office, then run by Schneiderman, for $25m.
Donald Trump with his children Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. All are being sued for violating charity laws