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Trump fails to quash lawsuit alleging his foundation violated campaign finance law

A state judge ruled that the lawsuit will proceed, over the protests of the president's lawyers.

U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A lawsuit alleging the Trump Foundation violated campaign finance law will proceed over the objections of President Trump, a state judge ruled on Friday.

The decision marks the second time in the past year that a New York judge has ruled the president is not shielded from civil litigation regarding his activities before he took office.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued Trump — along with three of his children, Eric, Don Jr., and Ivanka — in June, alleging the family’s charitable foundation improperly coordinated with Trump’s presidential campaign.

Underwood’s lawsuit was the culmination of a two-year investigation into the Trump Foundation which concluded, as she characterized it at the time, that “the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.”

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For instance, according to the lawsuit, after the Trump Foundation held an event to raise money for veterans groups during the GOP presidential primary, half of the money raised — about $2.8 million — was distributed by Trump’s campaign instead of donated to charitable organizations.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to toss out the legal challenge, arguing that New York’s attorney general does not have the jurisdiction to sue a sitting president and claiming that the attorney general’s office has a “pervasive bias” against Trump.

Trump himself has characterized the case as being driven by “sleazy New York Democrats” and has vowed not to settle.

In her opinion handed down Friday,  Justice Saliann Scarpulla did not find those arguments persuasive.

“I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Scarpulla wrote.

A different judge — Justice Jennifer Schecter — reached a similar conclusion earlier this year, when she ruled that a defamation lawsuit against Trump brought by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos could proceed.

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Schecter determined that a sitting president is not immune to civil suits regarding their conduct outside the scope of the presidency. “No one is above the law,” Schecter wrote at the time.

In Friday’s ruling, Scarpulla also rejected the allegations that the case is driven primarily by political bias, considering the “very serious” nature of the allegations.

Underwood’s office celebrated the news that the lawsuit will proceed, saying in a statement that “there are rules that govern private foundations — and we intend to enforce them.”

The attorney general is asking the Trump Foundation pay $2.8 million in restitution, equivalent to the amount raised at the veterans fundraiser that was given to the Trump campaign.