NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York’s attorney general sued U.S. President Donald Trump, three of his children and his namesake foundation on Thursday, alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the nonprofit, including support for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Barbara Underwood, the attorney general, asked a New York state judge to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and impose bans on Trump, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and his daughter Ivanka from holding leadership roles in New York charities.
Underwood said her office’s 21-month investigation, begun under her predecessor Eric Schneiderman, uncovered “extensive unlawful political coordination” by the foundation with Trump’s campaign, as well as “repeated and willful self-dealing” to benefit Trump’s personal, business and political interests.
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, and $100,000 paid to another charity to settle a legal claim in 2007.
“Mr. Trump ran the Foundation according to his whim, rather than the law,” the suit said.
The Republican president attacked the lawsuit in a series of posts on Twitter that blamed Democratic politicians in his home state.
“The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. 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,” Trump wrote. “I won’t settle this case!”
The Trump Foundation issued a statement criticizing the lawsuit as “politics at its very worst” and accusing the attorney general of holding its $1.7 million in remaining funds “hostage for political gain.”
The lawsuit adds to legal problems affecting Trump, including a probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia. Trump has denied there was any collusion, and Russia has denied meddling in the election.
The lawsuit filed in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan is seeking $2.8 million of 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.
“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to non-profits, regardless of their purpose of legality,” Underwood said in a statement. “That is not how private foundations should function.”
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama