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Amid Accusations Against His Charity, Trump Agrees to Shut It Down
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19 Dec 2018 09:29 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)

 

In yet another area where Donald Trump is failing, he agreed to give up his personal charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. He's been fighting allegations he used the foundation for his benefit, both personal and political.

 

Outgoing New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced on Tuesday that the foundation is dissolving as her office pursues the lawsuit against the charity, Trump, and his three eldest children.  

The lawsuit was initially filed in July. It alleged "persistently illegal conduct" at the Trump Foundation that the president began in 1987. The New York attorney general is seeking more than $2.8 million in restitution and asked that the Trump family be temporarily barred from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofits.

 

Underwood stated 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." 

The state's attorney general added, "This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone."

 

Apparent lapses at the foundation were documented. Trumped used money from the charity to pay legal settlements for his business, to buy art for one of his clubs, and to make a political donation, which is prohibited. 

He, of course, denied that the foundation had done anything wrong. He'd said he wanted to close the foundation two years ago, before he became president, to avoid it looking like conflicts of interest. But that move was blocked by the New York attorney general at the time while the investigation was ongoing.

 

This settlement shows Trump is conceding to a state inquiry that he has often referred to as a partisan attack. Legal investigations against his organizations have increased during his presidency. 

Underwood said in a court filing in New York that the remaining $1.75 million in the foundation will be distributed to other charities that her office and a state judge approve of.

 

A Trump Foundation attorney, Alan Futerfas, issued a statement complaining that Underwood is "politicizing" the agreement between herself and Trump. 

"The Foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election," he wrote.

 

"Unfortunately, the NYAG sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need" of money from the foundation. 

He added that through the life of the foundation, it had given away about $19 million, including $8.25 that was donated by the president himself. The rest came from donors, including pro-wrestling's Vince and Linda McMahon, who donated $5 million. He later chose Linda McMahon to lead the Small Business Association.

 

The foundation will be required to sell its remaining assets and donate the proceeds as part of the agreement, according to a spokeswoman for Underwood, Amy Spitalnick. 

These assets include a Denver Broncos football helmet signed by Tim Tebow that Trump bought at a charity auction in 2012 with $12,000 from the foundation. The foundation also owns two large portraits of Trump himself, that he paid $30,000 for altogether, with funds from the foundation.

 

While he initially spent $42,000 on these items, he now values them at just $975 altogether, according to a recent filing with the IRS. 

The lawsuit alleges that he used his charity's name as his own personal fund, even using it to help pay for his presidential campaign with 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 alleged in her initial lawsuit. 

$264,231 was given in 1989 to the Central Park Conservancy and was the largest donation in the history of the foundation, while appearing to benefit Trump's business, as it paid to restore a fountain outside Trump's Plaza Hotel. Even the smallest donation, a $7 gift to the Boy Scouts, seemed to benefit the family. It matched the amount that was required to enroll a boy in Scouts the same year Donald Trump Jr. was 11.

 

Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump, all listed as charity officers, never held a board meeting, according to the attorney general's investigation. Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg was the foundation's official treasurer and told investigators he wasn't even aware he was on the board. 

When asked what the foundation's policies were to decide whether the payments were proper, he stated, "There's no policy, just so you understand."

 

Trump also used the charity's funds to make a $25,000 donation to Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi, a Republican. The IRS wasn't notified, as is required. Instead, the donation was listed as a gift to an unrelated charity in Kansas that shares a similar name. This was blamed on accounting mistakes. 

Investigators also allege that in 2016 Trump "ceded control" of the foundation to his presidential campaign. He raised more than $2 million at an Iowa fundraiser, with the money going into the foundation. Corey Lewandowski, the campaign's manger, determined when and where the money would be given away.

 

In an email Lewandowski had written, "Is there any way we can make some disbursements ... this week while in Iowa?" 

The foundation also gave out oversize checks at campaign events in early voting states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, where he donated to local veterans' groups. Federal law prohibits charities from participating in political campaigns, and Trump has often suggested the law should be repealed.

 

Futerfas praised the charity for operating with "virtually zero expenses." It had no paid employees and only spent $163 on legal fees from 2001 to 2016. 

One item was left unsettled. The charity bought a large portrait of Trump for $20,000 in 2007. Its whereabouts are unknown. Least year the president listed it as an asset on the charity's taxes, stating it was worth a paltry $700. On this year's tax forms, however, it's listed as being worth $0.

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