New York State sues Trump Foundation for allegedly breaking state and federal law

Trump and his three eldest children are accused of "extensive and persistent violations."

New York State sues the Trump Foundation -- including Trump himself and his three eldest children -- for allegedly breaking state and federal law. (CREDIT: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
New York State sues the Trump Foundation -- including Trump himself and his three eldest children -- for allegedly breaking state and federal law. (CREDIT: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit on Thursday against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded and presided over by President Trump and his family.

Ostensibly a charitable organization, the suit alleges that the foundation served as a de facto checkbook for Donald Trump for decades, doling out money to settle his legal disputes, purchase lavish gifts, and otherwise enrich the Trump family. The suit names Donald Trump, three of his children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and White House adviser Ivanka Trump — and the rest of the Trump Foundation board as defendants.

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Among the allegations outlined in the suit, Underwood accuses the Trump Foundation — and President Trump specifically — of using charitable funds to support his presidential campaign in 2016. In January of that year, Trump declined to participate in a Republican primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, instead staging his own televised fundraising event nearby. After claiming to have raised more than $6 million for veterans charities, Trump failed to disperse a single penny for months, until reporters began inquiring about the fundraising haul. According to the suit, at least $2.8 million was collected by the Trump Foundation, and then dispersed at the direction of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

The release from the New York Attorney General’s office contains an image of email from Lewandowski to Allen Weisselberg, a longtime Trump Organization executive, saying “Is there any way we can make some disbursements this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday.”

Image of email from Corey Lewandowski CREDIT: New York Attorney General release
Image of email from Corey Lewandowski CREDIT: New York Attorney General release

Dogged reporting on the Trump Foundation’s long record of ethically dubious spending earned Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.

Fahrenthold reported shortly before the 2016 election that Trump’s “personal giving has almost disappeared entirely in recent years.” He found just one personal gift from Trump himself, back in 2008, to the Police Athletic League of New York City for less than $10,000. Everything else came from his foundation, which listed its biggest donor as the WWE.

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Instead, Trump allegedly spent other people’s money on such charitable causes as a $20,000 portrait of himself, a $12,000 football helmet signed by current minor league baseball player Tim Tebow, a second $10,000 portrait of himself for the wall of one of his golf resorts, plus more than a quarter million dollars to settle his personal legal disputes.

The foundation also allegedly turned $100,000 worth of donations into Trump Organization revenue by using Trump properties to host charity golf tournaments, even after Eric Trump boasted of being able to “use our assets 100 percent free of charge.”

Underwood is asking a judge to shut down the foundation, disperse its remaining $1 million in assets to other charities, and force Trump to pay $2.8 million in restitution and penalties. In addition, Trump and his three children on the foundation’s board would be banned from serving as directors of any New York-based non-profit for one year (or 10 years for President Trump).

In addition to the state’s charges, Underwood forward the suit to the IRS and Federal Elections Commission as well, flagging possible violations of federal law.