New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is suing the Donald J. Trump Foundation after an investigation by her office alleges that the company raised more than $2.8 million “in a manner designed to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday morning, names the foundation’s board of directors as well, including President Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump. Underwood asks that the Trump Foundation be dissolved and that Donald Trump be banned from holding the position of “director, officer or trustee" of any other New York not-for-profit organization for 10 years, and bar the members of the Board of Directors from the same for one year.
The lawsuit alleges a pattern of “persistent illegal conduct” spanning a more than a decade, including unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign and repeated transactions meant to benefit Trump’s personal and business interests — actions that violate state and federal law pertaining to charities.
Examples of these illegal actions, according to the lawsuit, include a $100,000 payment with funds from the nonprofit to settle legal claims against his Mar-A-Lago resort, $158,000 to settle legal claims against Trump National Golf Club and $10,000 to purchase a painting of Trump that was displayed at the Trump National Doral in Miami.
“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.”
The Trump Foundation was established in 1988 as a private foundation. In 2016, Trump said that he planned to dissolve the foundation so as not to portray a conflict of interest while President of the United States, but that action was blocked by the New York Attorney General’s office due to the ongoing investigation.
None of the foundation’s activities were approved by its Board of Directors, according to the AG’s investigation, meaning the board “existed in name only” and Trump “alone made all decisions related to the foundation.” The Board of Directors had not even met since 1999.
Concerning the Trump presidential campaign, the AG’s investigation found that the foundation raised more than $2.8 million for his run from the public via a televised fundraiser that Trump held in lieu of participating in the presidential primary debate in Iowa.
“In violation of state and federal law, senior Trump campaign staff, including Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski, dictated the timing, amounts, and recipients of grants by the Foundation to non-profits, as evidenced by communications between Campaign staff and Foundation representatives,” the AG’s office said, citing screenshots of emails from Lewandowski.
The lawsuit seeks an order that would require Trump to reimburse the foundation for these self-dealing transactions, and to pay penalties that could total up to double the benefit Trump saw from these foundation funds.
Trump seemed to respond to the lawsuit on Twitter Thursday morning, saying that the lawsuit was politically motivated by New York Democrats and former-A.G. Eric Schneiderman “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.”
“I won’t settle this case!” Trump tweeted.