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'People have gone to prison for stuff like this'

Trump's scandal range in severity from embarrassing to possibly criminal. Running a fraudulent charitable foundation is much closer to the latter.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, as he heads to Marine One for a short trip to...

Under normal political circumstances, the new allegations against Donald Trump's charitable foundation would be the dominant political scandal of the day. As Rachel explained on last night's show, the New York attorney general's office believes the president's foundation was little more than a slush fund, which, among other things, made illegal in-kind contributions for Trump's campaign.

What's more, according to yesterday's court filing, Trump's alleged misdeeds were "willful and intentional," and he was "fully aware of" at least some of the foundation's suspect activities. Indeed, there's a paper trail that appears to document the Republican's direct involvement in improper foundation payments intended to boost his candidacy.

But the significance of the revelations extend beyond the lawsuit filed by the state. As the New York Times  reported overnight, the president's bigger problem "might be with the Internal Revenue Service."

The lawsuit accused Mr. Trump and three of his children of using the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a nonprofit charity, for political and business purposes, even though he signed federal tax returns swearing that wasn't happening. Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood referred her findings to the I.R.S. for further investigation. [...]Similar behavior has prompted federal prosecutions, according to lawyers who have worked on such cases.

The New York attorney general's filing is not a criminal case, but the AG's office did refer potential crimes to the attention of the IRS and the Federal Elections Commission.

And at face value, there's ample reason to believe the IRS should take an interest in these findings. After all, as the NYT's article noted, Trump signed the foundation's tax returns, in which he stated, under penalties of perjury, "that the foundation did not engage in transactions with interested parties, and that the foundation did not carry out political activity."

In reality, there's quite a bit of evidence that the foundation was used as a piggy bank for Trump's campaign -- with Trump's direct involvement -- to the tune of $2.8 million.

"People have gone to prison for stuff like this, and if I were representing someone with facts like this, assuming the facts described in this petition are true, I would be very worried about an indictment," Jenny Johnson Ware, a criminal tax attorney in Chicago, told the Times.

She added, "If I were representing someone who had committed these acts, who was not president of the United States, I would be looking to negotiate a resolution."

The president is at the center of several scandals, which range in severity from merely embarrassing to possibly criminal. Running a fraudulent charitable foundation that engaged in "persistent illegal conduct" is much closer to the latter than the former.