New York sues Trump for ‘illegal conduct’ at family charity

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New York’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump, three of his children and his foundation, saying he illegally used the nonprofit as a personal “checkbook” for his own benefit, including his 2016 presidential campaign.

Following an investigation that took nearly two years and began under former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General Barbara Underwood has asked the court to dissolve the foundation, and ban Trump, his sons Donald Jr and Eric, and his daughter Ivanka from holding leadership roles in New York charities. The three children joined the foundation’s board in 2006, although Ivanka stepped down to work at the White House in 2017.

The suit alleges Trump, who was president of the charity foundation from its inception until shortly after his inauguration as president in January 2017, “was able to use the Foundation’s charitable assets to satisfy the obligations of, or otherwise benefit, himself and other entities in which he had an interest.”

“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 after filing the lawsuit on Thursday. 

The foundation denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated. 

Among the transactions the lawsuit cited as illegal was a $10,000 payment to the Unicorn Children’s Foundation for a portrait of Trump purchased at a fundraising auction in 2014. The portrait would end up decorating a wall at Trump’s Doral golf resort near Miami, the Washington Post first reported.

Another $100,000 went to another charity in 2007 to settle a legal dispute over a flagpole erected in violation of local ordinances at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and sometime residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

“Mr Trump ran the Foundation according to his whim, rather than the law,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, filed on Trump’s 72nd birthday in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeks $2.8m in restitution plus penalties, a 10-year ban on Trump serving as a director of a New York nonprofit, and one-year bans for his children.

Trump lashed out on Twitter, calling the lawsuit “ridiculous”.

“The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraces (and run out of town) AG 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!…” he also said on Twitter. 

The Trump Foundation issued a statement criticising the latest lawsuit as “politics at its very worst” and accusing the attorney general of holding its $1.7m in remaining funds “hostage for political gain”.

The New York City-based foundation said in a statement it had disbursed more than $19m to “worthy charitable causes” since its founding in 1987. Trump himself had contributed more than $8, and the foundation had already announced its intention to dissolve in 2016, the statement said.

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