Trump Foundation Will Close As Investigation Into Their Activities Continues

Dec 18, 2018
Originally published on December 19, 2018 12:03 pm
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The Trump Foundation will soon shut its doors. President Trump has used the tax-exempt organization for everything from charitable giving to political publicity. Now it's going to be dissolved as a result of a lawsuit by the New York State attorney general, Barbara Underwood. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: This is a victory for Attorney General Underwood, who sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation last spring. The suit will continue. It alleges the foundation was run to benefit Trump's personal and business interests and his presidential campaign. Amy Spitalnick is a spokeswoman for Underwood.

AMY SPITALNICK: The Trump Foundation truly served as little more than a checkbook to serve President Trump's business and political interests.

OVERBY: And she described the goal of dissolving it.

SPITALNICK: To ensure that the remaining dollars in the foundation's bank accounts are distributed to legitimate organizations that truly serve a charitable purpose.

OVERBY: Trump launched the foundation in 1987. Charitable foundations like this are typically a way for the wealthy to funnel some of their riches into good works. Alan Futerfas, the foundation's lawyer, said that over the past decade, 56 percent of its money came from Trump's wealthy friends and other donors. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold received a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Trump Foundation. In 2016, he explained Trump's approach to NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross.

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DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: He lives in a world where socially and commercially he couldn't not give to charity because he does, you know - his social life revolves around charity balls and also because so much of his business revolves around charity.

OVERBY: Fahrenthold said Trump does give money away up to a point.

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FAHRENTHOLD: It seems like he uses the foundation to sort of get over the minimum amount.

OVERBY: But much of the foundation money was used more pragmatically. It bought a portrait of Trump to hang in one of his golf course clubhouses, payments to settle lawsuits against Trump and, in 2013, a timely political contribution - $25,000 to a powerful Florida politician, Attorney General Pam Bondi. At the time, she was weighing whether to investigate allegations of consumer fraud against the Trump University program for would-be real estate investors. She decided to stay out of it and later told a press conference she'd done nothing wrong in taking the money.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PAM BONDI: There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return in.

OVERBY: But charitable foundations can't make political contributions. The Trump Foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS. The foundation's role in politics may have hit its peak a few nights before the Iowa Republican caucuses in January 2016. It ran a charity fundraiser for veterans done under direction of Trump's campaign operatives. Trump had decided to counterprogram against a candidate debate he wanted to avoid.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Is it for me personally a good thing, a bad thing? Will I get more votes? Will I get less votes? Nobody knows. Who the hell knows? But it's for our vets, and you're going to like it because we raised over $5 million in one day.

(CHEERING)

OVERBY: Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said the foundation's campaign activities foreshadowed Trump's approach to governing.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: The idea he thinks the rules can be ignored and that he can use any corporate structure, any legal structure, any legal office to advance his own narrow self-interest - that's the theme of the Trump presidency.

OVERBY: Alan Futerfas, the foundation's lawyer, today complained in a statement that the Trumps themselves had tried to dismantle the foundation for almost two years, but they were blocked by the attorney general's office. Now there's a different plan. The foundation's assets will be given away to some nonprofit groups to be proposed by the foundation and approved by the AG's office. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.