Trump agrees to shut down his charity amid allegations he used it for personal and political benefit
President Trump has agreed to shut down his embattled personal charity and give away its remaining funds amid allegations that he used it for his personal and political benefit, the New York attorney general announced Tuesday.
New York Atty. Gen. Barbara Underwood announced that the Donald J. Trump Foundation is dissolving as her office pursues its lawsuit against the charity, Trump and his three eldest children.
The attorney general’s suit, filed in June, alleged “persistently illegal conduct” at the charity and sought to have the foundation shut down. Underwood is continuing to seek more than $2.8 million in restitution and has asked a judge to ban the Trumps temporarily from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofits.
Underwood said Tuesday that her investigation found “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”
“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” she added in a statement.
The shuttering of Trump’s charity comes after the Washington Post documented a series of apparent lapses at the foundation. Trump used the charity’s funds pay off legal settlements for his private business, to purchase art that decorated one of his clubs and to make a prohibited political donation.
Trump denied that the organization had done anything wrong. In late 2016, he said he wanted to close the foundation, but the New York attorney general blocked that move while its investigation continued.
The settlement with Underwood’s office represents a concession by Trump to a state investigation he decried as a partisan attack. The case is one of numerous legal inquiries into Trump organizations that have proliferated during his White House tenure.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a court filing in New York, Underwood said that the foundation’s remaining $1.75 million would be distributed to other charities approved by her office and a state judge.
The attorney general’s suit alleges that Trump used the charity’s money as his own piggy bank — including using it to help his presidential campaign by paying for giveaways at Iowa rallies.
“The Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits from Mr. Trump or the Trump Organization,” Underwood wrote in the initial suit.
The Trump Foundation was never the most impressive part of Trump’s portfolio: At its peak in 2009, the charity had only about $3.2 million in the bank, a small sum for a billionaire’s charity.
The real estate mogul used other people’s donations to build up the assets of the foundation. In recent years, the largest gifts came from the pro-wrestling moguls Vince and Linda McMahon, not Trump himself. Linda McMahon now serves as head of the Small Business Administration.
Trump gave away the money in his name and also used funds from the foundation to pay his business’ legal settlements. Federal law prohibits using charity money for personal gain.
The Post’s reporting showed that Trump for years appeared to treat the foundation — which was, by law, an independent entity — as a checkbook for gifts that bolstered his interests.
The largest donation in the foundation’s history — a $264,231 gift to the Central Park Conservancy in 1989 — appeared to benefit Trump’s business; it paid to restore a fountain outside Trump’s Plaza Hotel. The smallest, a $7 foundation gift to the Boy Scouts that same year, appeared to benefit Trump’s family. It matched the amount required to enroll a boy in the Scouts the year that his son Donald Trump Jr. was 11.
The attorney general’s probe turned up evidence that Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — all listed as officers of the charity — had never actually held a board meeting. The board hadn’t met since 1999. The charity’s official treasurer, Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg, told investigators that he wasn’t even aware he was on the board.
State investigators asked Weisselberg what the foundation’s policies were to determine whether its payments were proper.
“There’s no policy, just so you understand,” Weisselberg said.
At one point, Trump used the charity’s money to make a $25,000 political donation to Florida Atty. Gen. Pamela Bondi. The charity didn’t tell the IRS about that, as required — and instead listed that donation as a gift to a totally unrelated charity in Kansas with a similar name. Trump’s team blamed accounting mistakes.
During the 2016 campaign, state investigators allege, Trump effectively “ceded control” of his charity’s money to his political campaign. He raised more than $2 million at a fundraiser in Iowa that flowed into the foundation. Then, the state said, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski determined when and where it would be given away.
“Is there any way we can make some disbursements . . . this week while in Iowa?” Lewandowski wrote in an email cited in Underwood’s lawsuit.
Trump gave away oversized prop checks from the foundation at campaign events in the key early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, pausing his campaign rallies to donate to local veterans groups.
The demise of the Trump Foundation still leaves one mystery unresolved: the fate of a large portrait of Trump that the future president bought for $20,000 in 2007, using money from the charity. What became of it after that is unknown.
In 2017, after the Washington Post wrote about the portrait, Trump listed it as an asset on his charity’s IRS forms. He assigned it a value of $700. But he did not say where it was.
On this year’s tax forms, however, the painting’s value was listed at $0. Trump’s attorney did not respond to a query from the Post about why.
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