Trump Foundation to Close Amid Lawsuit Accusing It of ‘Willful Self-Dealing’


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Trump Foundation to Close Amid Lawsuit Accusing It of ‘Willful Self-Dealing’

Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Image
Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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The Donald J. Trump Foundation will close and give away all its remaining funds in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general’s office, which had accused the Trump family of using the charity for self-dealing and political gain, the office announced on Tuesday.

The attorney general, Barbara Underwood, accused the foundation of “a shocking pattern of illegality” that was “willful and repeated” and included unlawfully coordinating with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” Ms. Underwood said.

The closure of the foundation is a milestone in the investigation. But the broader lawsuit, which also seeks millions in restitution and penalties and a bar on President Trump and his three oldest children from serving on the boards of other New York charities, is proceeding.

What assets remain after penalties will be directed to charities that must be approved by the attorney general’s office, and the process will be subject to judicial supervision. Ms. Underwood and a lawyer for the foundation signed the stipulation agreeing to the dissolution.

“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” Ms. Underwood said. “We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”

Mr. Trump had said after the 2016 election that to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, he would dissolve the foundationfollowing revelations of its financial mismanagement. But the attorney general’s office blocked the president from doing so, amid concerns about the handling of the foundation’s documents and assets.

Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer for the foundation, characterized Ms. Underwood’s announcement as making a “misleading statement.”

“The foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “Unfortunately, the N.Y.A.G. sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need of nearly $1.7 million.

“The N.Y.A.G.’s inaccurate statement of this morning is a further attempt to politicize this matter,” he added.

The investigation of the foundation was begun by Eric T. Schneiderman, the former attorney general, who was an antagonist of Mr. Trump before stepping down amid revelations of sexual misconduct this year.

Next month, the ongoing case will fall to the incoming attorney general, Letitia James, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump who said recentlythat she would “use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family.”

Ms. Underwood’s office sued the Trump Foundation in June, charging it with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”

[Want to know more about the Trump Foundation? Read this explainer.]

Nonprofit foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, but the attorney general’s office, following a two-year investigation, accused the Trump Foundation of being used to win political favor and even purchase a $10,000 portrait of Mr. Trump that was displayed at one of his golf clubs. The existence of the portrait was first reported by The Washington Post.

Mr. Trump was required to sign annual I.R.S. filings in which he attested that the foundation did not engage in political activity.

The lawsuit accused the foundation of virtually becoming an arm of the Trump campaign, with its campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, directing the foundation to make disbursements in Iowa only days before the state held its presidential nominating caucuses.

“Is there any way we can make some disbursements [from the proceeds of the fund-raiser] this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday,” Mr. Lewandowski wrote to the foundation’s treasurer in an email disclosed in the lawsuit.

Such charities are also barred from advancing the self-interests of its executives over the charity’s mission, but the attorney general’s office said in a court filing this year that the foundation had entered into a number of “prohibited self-dealing transactions that directly benefited Mr. Trump or entities that he controlled.”

One of those was revealed by a note in Mr. Trump’s handwriting that said $100,000 of Trump Foundation money should be directed to another charity to settle a legal dispute between the Town of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

The attorney general’s office is seeking for the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution, which is the amount raised for the foundation at an Iowa fund-raiser in 2016 that Mr. Trump held on the day that he avoided attending a debate with his Republican rivals. The foundation reported $1.7 million in assets in 2017 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Last month, a New York state judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump, as president, and that the statute of limitations had passed on some of the issues.

“I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Justice Saliann Scarpulla wrote in a 27-page ruling.

Mr. Futerfas had said in a statement then that “all of the money raised by the Foundation went to charitable causes” and that “we remain confident in the ultimate outcome of these proceedings.

“I won’t settle this case!” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter in June, accusing “the sleazy New York Democrats” of targeting him.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

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!…

55.8K people are talking about this

The foundation lawsuit follows years of scrutiny of President Trump’s charitable activities and adds to his extensive legal challenges, amid a continuing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The Trump Foundation is hardly the first charity dissolved by the state — Mr. Schneiderman previously shut down a sham breast cancer charity, for example — but it is the first involving a sitting president of the United States.

Also, if the attorney general’s office is successful in barring Mr. Trump from serving on foundation boards for a decade, it would put him in the unusual position of not being able to serve on the board of his own post-presidential foundation, should it be set up in New York.

Danny Hakim contributed reporting.

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