Under pressure from various investigations, Trump shutters his troubled ‘charity’
President Donald Trump’s namesake charity, the Trump Foundation, has signed a stipulation agreement to dissolve the organization, amid an ongoing probe by the New York attorney general’s office into allegations of misconduct and unlawful coordination with the Trump campaign.
The move comes as Trump faces increasing pressure on all fronts as a result of several separate investigations by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
The stipulation agreement was part of a larger agreement to break up the charity and distribute its remaining funds, under judicial supervision, to other charitable groups approved by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” Underwood said in a statement. “We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”
In her statement, Underwood also cited “a shocking pattern of illegality” that led to this decision.
Among other things, the Trump Foundation is currently being investigated for allegations the president and his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump, used the charity for their personal benefit and to benefit the president’s 2016 campaign. According to the Post, “Trump used the charity’s funds pay off legal settlements for his private business, to purchase art that decorated one of his clubs and to make a prohibited political donation.”
The president has denied the allegations.
The agreement is the latest in a wave of bad news for Trump, besieged by relentless negative developments in the myriad investigations into the entities associated with him.
In addition to the Trump Foundation’s woes, the president’s inaugural committee is also reportedly under investigation by the Southern District of New York over allegations it used excess funds it received to benefit the president himself. According to the Wall Street Journal, investigators are probing whether supporters used large-sum donations to buy access to the president, and whether foreign individuals or groups were among those donors.
A report by ProPublica and WNYC on Friday claimed the committee used funds on rooms, meals, and event space at Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel. The report, which cited “internal emails and receipts,” also claimed Ivanka Trump had personally negotiated the prices for those expenditures, raising the possibility she hiked prices to profit from the inaugural committee. Internal planners had expressed dismay that the hotel had overcharged the committee, according to the report.
President Trump is currently battling a slew of troubles related to the ongoing Russia investigation.
In late November, Mueller, who is investigating collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, accused Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of breaking his plea deal with prosecutors and lying to them about his communication with the White House, which ended much later than Manafort said. Manafort also allegedly lied about his contact with a person who had ties to Russian intelligence, according to court filings by the special counsel.
Manafort, who himself has extensive ties to Russian or pro-Russian Ukrainian figures, was previously convicted on several counts of bank and tax fraud stemming from work he did on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is set to be sentenced in February.
Earlier this month, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen was also sentenced to three years in jail in connection with an earlier guilty plea stemming from several charges of bank and tax fraud. Cohen also pleaded guilty to multiple campaign finance violations related to payments he made ahead of the 2016 election to two women who say they had affairs with Trump. Cohen also lied to investigators on Mueller’s team about his and Trump’s involvement in a prospective Trump Tower deal in Moscow.
In court documents, both Cohen and the prosecution implicated Trump in the campaign finance violations, which are felonies. Cohen testified that he made the payments to the two women at the direction of Trump.
Around that same time, American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company, entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the Southern District of New York in exchange for information it had regarding a hush-money arrangement it had set up with Trump and Cohen during the 2016 election.
According to AMI, the two men met with the outlet in the summer of 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, and agreed to let AMI purchase and bury any negative stories about Trump that might hurt his campaign, including that of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, one of the women who claims she had an affair with the president. Secretly taped audio from 2016 revealed Trump and Cohen discussing purchasing McDougal’s story from AMI to keep it from the public.
The Enquirer also ran numerous negative and baseless stories about Trump’s rivals, and killed a story from one of the women who had claimed she had an affair with Trump.
This week, the president also faced a flurry of renewed attention on his former campaign surrogate and national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn previously pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss reversing certain sanctions against the country. Over the last 12 months, he has been cooperating with Mueller’s team, providing hours of testimony that appears to have assisted with several investigations, some of them unknown to the public, and at a sentencing hearing Tuesday, he accepted responsibility for his actions.
Flynn’s hearing came one day after two former business associates were indicted by federal prosecutors for acting as agents of the Turkish government, in an attempt to have one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political rivals extradited.
The Trump Foundation’s dissolution is the latest stumbling block for the president, but certainly not the first hurdle he has faced in connection with his personal businesses.
In 2016, the president was slapped with three separate lawsuits related to his real-estate education program, Trump University, after several former students and the State of New York claimed it had engaged in shady business practices and defrauded consumers. The plaintiffs claimed Trump University had allegedly manipulated students into purchasing high-cost training courses on the promise that they would become personally enriched through the program.
Trump and his lawyers eventually settled the lawsuits for $25 million in November 2016, shortly after his election victory.