Thursday, June 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted badly to action being taken against his illegal "charity."

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit today against the now-defunct Donald J. Trump Foundation for "persistently illegal conduct." The suit names as defendents Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr., all of whom served as members of the organization's board of directors.

Trump has a long history of abusing charities for personal gain, although his signature move--publicly promising to give money and then failing to actually do it--is not strictly speaking illegal. It was that pattern that prompted Washington Post reporter David Farenthold to look into a pledge that Trump made during the campaign to give $1 million to veterans' charities. Farenthold found that, four months later, no such donation had been made. After a week or so of complaining about unfair media treatment, Trump belatedly wrote checks to a variety of charities for bundled donations made by other people, allegedly including his $1 million.

Farenthold ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Trump's charity scandals, and the New York suit used it as a starting point. Most of the issues he uncovered dealt with "self-dealing," in which Trump used the "charity" as a checking account, using it to buy portraits of himself to hang in his businesses, or to settle lawsuits against Trump himself. Farenthold also showed that Trump himself had not given anything to the foundation in the last ten years, relying on other people's money instead.

But Underwood's investigation, backed by subpoena power, revealed new details about the extent of the Trump family's misconduct. Among other things, Underwood revealed that the board of directors had not met in 19 years, and that the official treasurer--an employee of Trump's business--didn't even know he was the treasurer. 

It also uncovered a more serious problem, which is that Trump's presidential campaign was actively directing the foundation's payouts in order to boost Trump's popularity. It is absolutely illegal for a nonprofit organization to assist a political candidate. Underwood made criminal referrals to the IRS and FEC as part of today's action.

Trump reacted furiously on Twitter, insisting that he "would not settle." (He made a similar claim about his fraudulent "Trump University" before settling with his victims for $25 million.) The Trump Foundation, separately from Trump and his children, has already admitted last year to self-dealing.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to try to cheat tax and election laws by running a sham charity.
  • A self-proclaimed billionaire who goes to these kinds of lengths to avoid making legitimate charitable donations is either incredibly stingy or not as wealthy as he claims