Donald Trump’s personal charity amounted to little more than a personal piggy bank he could use for his own financial and political gain, according to a lawsuit filed by the New York state attorney general after a two-year investigation.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed the suit in state court on Thursday accusing Trump and three of his adult children of “extensive and persistent violations of federal law” that date back more than a decade and continued through the 2016 presidential campaign. Among the alleged illegal activity: Trump used foundation money to settle his business’ legal obligations, promote his hotels and clubs, and curry political favor for his presidential campaign.
The suit included emails from Trump campaign staff that appear to show them directing foundation donations in Iowa in the days before the state’s presidential caucus. Some of those donations came after Trump skipped a Republican primary debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans that doubled as a campaign rally.
The AG is seeking $2.8 million in restitution and is also asking the court to ban Trump and his adult children—all of whom sat on the New York–based foundation’s board—from leading any other New York nonprofit for 10 years. The office also sent referral letters to both the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission asking the federal agencies to open their own investigations into the foundation.
“As our investigation reveals, 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,” Underwood said in a statement. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.” (Underwood took over as AG after her predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, resigned last month following allegations he had physically assaulted several romantic partners.)
The president reacted to the news as one might expect.
The Trump Foundation, likewise, issued a statement pushing back against the allegations. Notably, that statement was sent from an email address of the for-profit Trump Organization.
Many of the specifics of the case were previously uncovered by the dogged reporting of the Washington Post and others, including allegations that: Trump used $158,000 of the charity’s money to settle with a golfer who believed he sunk a $1 million hole-in-one at a Trump golf course only to discover the hole had been set up in such a way where winning the prize was impossible under the fine print; Trump spent $10,000 of the foundation’s money to buy a portrait of himself that was later found hanging at one of his golf clubs; and Trump funneled $25,000 from his foundation to help Florida’s state attorney general get re-elected at a time when she had been considering joining an ongoing lawsuit against his now-defunct “Trump University.”
As board members, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump were responsible for ensuring the foundation acted appropriately. But as another board member made clear in a deposition, there was little if any oversight at the foundation. “There’s no policy, just so you understand,” Allen Weisselberg, a longtime Trump Organization exec and the nominal Trump Foundation treasurer, told investigators when asked whether there were guidelines for how to hand out the money. Weisselberg was then asked if he was aware he was on the foundation’s board and had been for more than a decade. “I did not,” he responded.