Pres­i­dent at­tacks ‘sleazy Democrats’ as law­suit filed against Trump foun­da­tion

The Guardian - - NEWS - Tom McCarthy

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TI­MOTHY A CLARY/AFP/GETTY

Don­ald Trump with his chil­dren Eric, Ivanka and Don­ald Jr. All are be­ing sued for vi­o­lat­ing char­ity laws

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