ALBANY — New York's attorney general is seeking to shut down President Trump's charitable foundation, accusing the president of using the charity to advance his self-interests and boost his 2016 presidential campaign.
The lawsuit from Attorney General Barbara Underwood, filed Thursday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, lists a wide array of apparent law-breaking over more than a decade and asks a judge to force the foundation, Trump and his family to pay $2.8 million in restitution.
In particular, the lawsuit takes issue with the Trump Foundation's Iowa fundraiser for veterans organizations on Jan. 28, 2016, which came in the days before the Iowa caucuses.
Underwood claims the event was largely run by Trump's campaign staff, which directed where the funds were went. When Trump issued enlarged checks to the veterans organizations, they had his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan on the bottom.
New York law prohibits charities from participating in political events.
“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” Underwood said in a statement. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”
Trump wasted little time responding to the lawsuit, taking to Twitter to vow he would not settle the case.
He called the case "ridiculous" and laid blame with former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a frequent Trump foe who resigned in disgrace last month after he was accused of physically abusing multiple women.
Schneiderman was succeeded by Underwood, his former solicitor general.
"The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000," Trump wrote. "I won’t settle this case!"
Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump are also named as defendants in the suit.
Underwood's lawsuit accuses the foundation of illegally coordinating with Trump's presidential campaign, "repeated and willful self-dealing transactions" and failing to follow basic laws related to its finances over more than a decade.
She accuses the Trump Foundation board of being largely nonexistent, failing to hold a meeting since 1999 and allowing Trump himself to determine when and where contributions were made.
Several times, the foundation paid six-figure sums to other foundations to settle legal issues at Mar-a-Lago and Trump's other clubs in violation of state and federal law.
That includes a $158,000 payment in 2012 to the Martin B. Greenberg Foundation to settle a dispute over a $1 million hole-in-one contest during a charity tournament at The Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, Westchester County.
At times, the foundation also promoted Trump's business interests, according to Underwood's suit.
The charity paid for a $5,000 advertisement in a program for the DC Preservation League's annual gala, for example. But the advertisement didn't tout the Trump Foundation: It promoted Trump Hotels, according to the lawsuit.
Underwood's office, meanwhile, accused Trump of willfully violating laws prohibiting charities from participating in political causes, noting Trump spoke about the issue in public in February 2016.
The lawsuit claims the Iowa fundraiser was "coopted" by Trump's campaign, pointing to evidence showing Corey Lewandowski, Trump's one-time campaign manager, had a major role in deciding when the foundation's checks to veterans groups were distributed.
Trump held the fundraiser after declining an invitation to a Fox News GOP primary debate, which was held the same night.
“Mr. Trump’s wrongful use of the Foundation to benefit his Campaign was willful and knowing," the lawsuit claims. "Mr. Trump was aware of the prohibition on political activities and the requirement of restrictions on related party transactions.”
In a statement, the Trump Foundation called the lawsuit "politics at its very worst," touting the charity's $19 million in charitable contributions over the years.
The state's investigation into the charity dates back to at least October 2016, when then-Attorney General Schneiderman's office ordered it to stop fundraising in New York after finding apparent violations of state law.
Schneiderman and Trump frequently clashed, with Schneiderman leading a lawsuit and investigation into Trump University that became a major topic on the presidential campaign trail and ultimately was settled for $25 million.
The foundation's statement — attributed to an unnamed spokesman — accused Schneiderman of using the foundation investigation to "advance his own political goals" and Underwood of continuing "political attacks."
"The Foundation currently has $1.7 million remaining which the NYAG has been holding hostage for political gain," the statement reads. "This is unconscionable – particularly because the Foundation previously announced its intention to dissolve more than a year and a half ago."