NEW YORK — Insider testimony, emails and other evidence show President Donald Trump turned his charitable foundation into a wing of his White House campaign, New York’s attorney general said in a new court filing Thursday.
State Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, detailed her case against the foundation in a 37-page court filing in a lawsuit that seeks $2.8 million in restitution and an order banning Trump and his three eldest children from running any New York charities for 10 years.
The filing was a response to an earlier court submission from the foundation’s lawyers, who have argued that the lawsuit against the charity is both flimsy and politically motivated.
The Trump Foundation reached a deal in December to fold and distribute about $1.7 million in remaining funds to other nonprofits in a court-supervised process. Each charity will get the same amount, and the attorney general’s office has the right to reject the ones it deems unfit.
That agreement, though, didn’t resolve the lawsuit, which says the foundation’s involvement in a Trump manoeuvr during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses in 2016 broke rules barring charities from getting involved in political campaigns.
At the time, Trump was feuding with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and refusing to participate in the network’s final Republican presidential primary debate before the caucuses.
Instead, he held a rally at the same time as the debate at which he called on people to donate to veterans charities. The foundation acted as a pass-through for people who heeded his call for donations.
James said the evidence of banned co-ordination between campaign officials and the foundation includes deposition testimony from Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg and emails he exchanged with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
In one email, a Trump company vice-president asked Lewandowski for guidance on how to distribute the money that was raised.
“Do you have a list of which veterans charities you want these funds sent to and how much for each charity??” the vice-president, Jeffrey McConney, wrote Lewandowski on Feb. 16, 2016, according to the filing. “Lastly, how much longer do you want to keep the TrumpforVets website up and running?”
Trump was also accused in the suit of directing that $100,000 in foundation money be used to settle legal claims over an 80-foot flagpole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, instead of paying the expense out of his own pocket.
A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for the foundation. In the past, foundation lawyers have said any infractions were minor and that the lawsuit ignored the charity’s philanthropic work.
James, a Democrat newly elected to office, also issued subpoenas Monday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank seeking records related to four Trump real estate projects and his failed 2014 bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Trump decried that development as the work of “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSERS,” and said, “The Witch Hunt continues!”
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press