New York ’s attorney general announced on Thursday she was suing the Trump Foundation, as well as Donald Trump and his children, alleging “extensive and persistent” lawbreaking.
Barbara Underwood said the charitable foundation had engaged in “unlawful political coordination” designed to influence the 2016 election.
The lawsuit seeks to dissolve the foundation, Ms Underwood said.
Also named in the suit were Mr Trump’s children, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.
In a statement, Ms Underwood said Mr Trump had illegally instructed his foundation to provide support to his presidential campaign by using the foundation’s name and funds it raised to promote the campaign.
The president hit back at the lawsuit on Twitter, saying that “sleazy New York democrats” were “doing everything they can to sue me”. He vowed he would not settle the case.
The lawsuit alleges that the foundation paid $100,000 to settle legal claims against Mr Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort, $158,000 to settle claims against one of his golf clubs, and $10,000 to purchase a painting of Mr Trump to hang at another of his golf clubs.
The purchase of the painting was an example of one of “at least five self-dealing transactions”, the statement said, which violate tax regulations on non-profit charities.
New York is also seeking $2.8 million of restitution, a 10-year ban on Mr Trump serving as a director of a New York non-profit, and similar one-year bans for his children Donald Jr, Eric, and Ivanka, who serve on the foundation’s board.
Eric Trump distanced himself from his own charitable foundation after the election, the New York Times reported, after it came under investigation by the attorney general for allegedly shifting its resources to the Trump Organisation.
The Trump foundation lawsuit adds to Mr Trump’s mounting legal challenges, which include a wide-ranging special counsel investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted several of Mr Trump’s associates and raided the home and office of the president’s long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
‘A new front opened up’
Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has opened a new front in the ongoing criminal investigations into Donald Trump and his empire. Allegations of misdeeds connected to the Trump Foundation had swirled during the 2016 presidential elections, but the topic had been overshadowed during the early days of the Trump presidency. That may be about to change.
Administration officials, from the president on down, will certainly attempt to brand this as yet another politically motivated investigation of an ideological adversary – new witches but the same hunt.
Nevertheless, as New York attorney general Ms Underwood has significant investigatory and prosecutorial power, and if she starts looking into some of Mr Trump’s more questionable charitable activities, there’s no telling what she might turn up.
At the very least, it appears the Trump world’s celebrations of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s disgrace were a bit premature. Ms Underwood may not be as outspokenly anti-Trump as her predecessor, but she appears to be equally – or more – aggressive where it counts, in courtroom.