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Trump Foundation accused of widespread illegal activities

Donald Trump didn't need another serious scandal, but he has one anyway.
Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on prison reform in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Washington. Trump and his...

One of the great ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign is that voters were led to believe that of the two major-party candidates, Hillary Clinton was the one with the controversial charitable foundation. Given the many alarming questions surrounding Donald Trump's charitable foundation, the conventional wisdom had it backwards.

And as it turns out, it may have been vastly worse than we knew.

Last fall, Trump's foundation took steps toward dissolution, but it ran into some trouble. The New York Attorney General's Charities Division explained at the time that it was investigating the foundation, and the president's entity couldn't formally dissolve until that probe ran its course.

That was eight months ago. As an NBC News' report makes clear, investigators have now wrapped up their examination, and they apparently found quite a bit.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued President Donald Trump and his charitable foundation on Thursday, alleging that the president and his adult children illegally used the private foundation for personal, business, and political expenses.The lawsuit alleges illegal activity that took place over more than a decade, including "extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump's personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations," according to a statement from the attorney general's office.The suit accuses the president, along with Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr., of violating multiple counts of state and federal law. Foundation funds were used to pay off Trump family legal obligations, promote Trump businesses, purchase personal items, and influence the president's 2016 campaign, the suit said.

The full 41-page court filing is online here (pdf). The president has already published a couple of tweets complaining about the allegations and vowing not to settle the case.

The Trump Foundation also criticized the filing, though in an amusing twist, the foundation accused of improperly being controlled by the Trump Organization responded to the allegations by issuing a statement through the Trump Organization's email account.

If some of the allegations seem familiar, there's a good reason for that. As regular readers know, we learned two years ago about Trump using his charitable foundation's money to buy giant portraits of himself. He also used foundation money to make illegal campaign contributions, settle private-sector lawsuits, and support conservative political entities that could help further his partisan ambitions.

Two weeks after the Republican's election, we learned that the Trump Foundation admitted in official documents that “it violated a legal prohibition against ‘self-dealing,’ which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.”

Making matters slightly worse, the president has been caught lying about all of this, arguing publicly that “all” of the money the the foundation raised was “given to charity.” He added soon after that “100%” of the millions raised went to “wonderful charities.” Neither claim was consistent with reality.

But the allegations from the New York attorney general's office go much further, pointing, for example, to specific and documented instances in which Trump's campaign operation coordinated the foundation's donations for maximum political benefit to the then-candidate.

Simon Maloy's takeaway from the court filing rings true: "This filing lays out absurd and flagrant corruption, and it makes clear not just that it was driven personally by Trump, but that he deliberately removed all safeguards and oversight that could have hindered his illegal behavior."

It's worth emphasizing that this is not a criminal case -- New York is seeking restitution of $2.8 million, plus additional penalties -- though today's filing did refer potential crimes to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Elections Commission.

Donald Trump didn't need another serious scandal, but he has one anyway.