New York Attorney General Sues Trump And His Family, Alleging Charity Fraud

The Attorney General of New York has filed a Complaint against President Trump and several members of his family alleging widespread fraud in the operation of Trump's charitable Foundation.

The Attorney General of New York has filed a scathing Complaint against President Trump, his two oldest sons,  daughter Ivanka Trump, and the Trump Foundation alleging that they operated Trump’s charitable foundation in what amounts to a fraudulent manner:

The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the petition asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

Mr. Trump immediately attacked the lawsuit, characterizing it in a Twitter post as an attempt by the “sleazy New York Democrats” to damage him by suing the foundation, vowing not to settle the case.

The $10,000 portrait was one of several examples of the foundation being used in “at least five self-dealing transactions,” according to the attorney general’s office, violating tax regulations that prohibit using nonprofit charities for private interests.

In 2007, to settle a dispute between the City of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the foundation paid $100,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, another charity.

In 2012, a man named Martin B. Greenberg sued the Trump National Golf Club after he made a hole-in-one at a fund-raising golf tournament that had promised to pay $1 million to golfers who aced the 13th hole, as he did. As part of a settlement, the charitable foundation paid $158,000 to a foundation run by Mr. Greenberg.

The foundation also paid $5,000 to one organization for “promotional space featuring Trump International Hotels,” and another $32,000 to satisfy a pledge made by a privately held entity controlled by Mr. Trump to a charitable land trust.

The foundation lawsuit, and the referrals to the federal agencies, are the latest of Mr. Trump’s voluminous legal challenges, starting with the ongoing investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia. Earlier this week, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, scrapped his own legal team, as he faces an investigation by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

The attorney general’s action is also likely to embolden critics who have accused Mr. Trump of flouting legal norms. Mr. Trump has suggested he might pardon himself in the Mueller investigation and has repeatedly assailed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“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,” said Barbara D. Underwood, New York’s attorney general, who has been on her job little over a month. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the foundation accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”‘

The Washington Post, first reported on the allegations regarding apparent improprieties which in the operation of Trump’s charitable foundation back in October 2016, has more on the details of the lawsuit and Post reporter Amber Phillips details the implications of these allegations:

What’s so striking about this lawsuit is how much wrongdoing it alleges.  The lawsuit’s takeaway slams you in the face: Trump’s use of the charity was unethical and illegal. His primary motivation, according to the lawsuit, was to enrich himself rather than helping others. Read another way, the state of New York is alleging that the president’s charity was a sham.

New York attorney general Barbara Underwood, a career official with decades of distinguished legal work, alleges that Trump and his children engaged in “persistently illegal conduct” with the charity.

Trump’s core message to voters was that he could clean up a political system filled with people who are only in public service for themselves. A thorough, nonpartisan investigation by state officials just alleged that for decades, Trump used his own charity, set up to help others, to knowingly help himself. That’s as swampy as it gets.

The Post’s David Fahrenthold first highlighted many of the misuses of funds, like using charity money to decorate one of his golf resorts with a $10,000 portrait of Trump. He reports on the lawsuit: “[B]ehind the scenes, Underwood said, the foundation was essentially one of Trump’s personal checkbooks.”

“Foundations may spend money only to further their charitable missions, but Trump used the foundation as a personal piggy bank,” said Melanie Sloan, an ethics expert and Trump critic.

Of course, Trump is facing numerous ethical and legal inquiries — from his business practices as president, to his fidelity to his wife and payments to women to allegedly keep them quiet, to whether he forcibly kissed and groped women, to whether he tried to obstruct an FBI investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.

But to date, most of the allegations and lawsuits only incrementally chip away at the president’s conduct. And he has plenty of plausible deniability to try to convince his supporters that he’s being wrongly attacked.

(…)

This New York lawsuit feels different. It’s much harder to separate the person from the actions. It alleges that he used the charity’s money over the past decade to settle legal disputes involving his for-profit business.

And the lawsuit alleges that when he was running for president, things got worse, not better. It alleges that he used the money to donate to certain veterans’ charities that could be politically beneficial to him, for example.

The lawsuit alleges that this wasn’t just a mistake on his staff’s part, or bad apples in his campaign acting on their own. Trump had been using the charity to enrich himself consistently for decades. He knew what he was doing when he used it to run for president.

Underwood: “Mr. Trump’s wrongful use of the Foundation to benefit his Campaign was willful and knowing.”

In other words, Trump knew he was acting unethically and maybe even illegally. And he did it anyway. Over and over again.

As a preliminary matter, it’s worth noting that this is a civil matter rather than a criminal one. To be sure, the allegations of charitable fraud that are made in the Verified Complaint, which I have embedded below, are serious enough that they could pose the basis for a criminal case. This is especially true in New York, which has some of the most stringent laws and regulations regarding the operation of charities and the obligations of those operating those charities. Additionally, the issue of charitable fraud is one that the New York Attorney General’s office has been rather vigorous and aggressive dating back to well before the tenure of Ms. Underwood or her predecessor Eric Schneiderman, who was forced to resign earlier this year amid allegations of sexual impropriety. Of course, it’s unclear as a matter of law if a state can file indictments against a sitting President of the United States or if their power to do so is as limited as that of a Federal prosecutor pending the President’s impeachment and removal from office.

In any case, instead of pursuing this as a criminal manner Attorney General Underwood instead chose to go the civil route, thus avoiding the Constitutional issues that a criminal indictment would bring up. That doesn’t mean that Trump is out of the woods, though, In the Complaint, Underwood is seeking a number of civil remedies against the President and his three eldest children that would severely curtail their ability to be involved with similar charitable foundations in the future. Specifically, the damages sought in the case include a judgment of $2.8 million against the President himself related to alleged fraudulent transfers to and from the foundation. The Complaint also seeks an order barring the President, Donald Trump, Jr, Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump from being affiliated with any charitable foundation that is based in or does business in New York State regardless of where the charity is located, The suit would also force Trump’s children to essentially end their involvement in relationships with other organization, including their own foundations. In that regard, it’s worth noting that Ivanka Trump has her own charitable foundation that claims to be dedicated to “economic empowerment for women and girls. Additionally, Eric Trump had his own foundation but distanced himself from the organization after the election when it was reported that the foundation was under investigation amid allegations that it was illegally shifting resources to The Trump Organization, the holding company that controls the President’s for-profit businesses. (I wrote about the allegations against Eric Trump’s foundation last year, here and here.) Suffice it to say, then, that these are fairly serious allegations notwithstanding the fact that they are civil in nature rather than criminal.

Not surprisingly, the President has lashed out against the allegations on Twitter:

Additionally, Trump’s foundation issued a statement, although it came from a Trump Organization email address, a move that seems to support the allegation that Trump was essentially operating his foundation as just another business enterprise:

Notwithstanding the President’s tweets, it’s fairly clear, as Phillips notes, that these are serious allegations against the President and his family that are of a different nature than others we’ve seen so far. Previous claims against this President, such as the harassment lawsuit filed by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zarvos or the allegations made by former adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, have touched upon his personal behavior. The allegations being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, meanwhile, remain allegations at this point and while they may prove to bear fruit at some point we have not reached that point yet. This Complaint, though, goes at the very heart of the way that Trump conducted his private affairs before becoming President and quite plainly and boldly accuses him of acting in an unethical and illegal manner. If proven in a court, these allegations could prove to be fairly problematic for the President and his family going forward even if they don’t directly lead to something as severe as impeachment and removal from office. Obviously, of course, a Complaint is not proof of the allegations set forth therein, and Trump and his attorneys are likely to fight this matter vigorously in Court. Based solely on the Complaint, though, this doesn’t look good for the President.

Here’s the Complaint:

New York v. Trump Et Al by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Crime, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. teve tory says:

    “The reason the foundation was able to donate more than it took in is that it had little to no expenses.”

    Uh…what?

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  2. Kathy says:

    One can see the coming progression a mile away:

    1) Whataboutclinton?
    2) Leaks from the IRS and/or White house that Little Donald ordered not to investigate his foundation
    3) Giuliani defending the use of campaign money to pay the civil settlement

    I’d answer:

    1) If you want to try and hang Clinton from the nearest lamppost, that’s no skin off my nose
    2) and 3) STOP BREAKING THE LAW, ASHOLE!

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  3. Kathy says:

    @teve tory:

    IMO, if a (alleged) charitable foundation disburses more money than it receives, that means the criminals running it overcooked the books they were supposed to cook.

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  4. teve tory says:

    I mean maybe they weren’t including some seed money or something, but it still reads weird.

  5. teve tory says:
  6. Pylon says:

    This is stuff all reported before the election. Why, oh why, did it take so long to get this going?

    What’s so laughable is the picayune level of grift here. And that it’s yet another example of Trump projection. Obama is weak? Watch Trump roll over for NK. HRC is in bed with the corporations? Watch Trump fill up the swamp. The Clinton Foundation of being corrupt? That can only mean that the Trump Foundation is. At some point I’m pretty sure we’ll find out Trump was born in Africa.

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  7. James Pearce says:

    That Trump tweet is just straight up trashfire.

    He doesn’t deny or even acknowledge the accusations. And why would he? He wants to see Dems defend Schneiderman.

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  8. MikeSJ says:

    This potentially could turn into a serious problem for Trump. In a nutshell everyone understands “stealing from a charity” It doesn’t require an explanation for your average citizen to realize what is going on (if you’re explaining you’ve already lost the argument)

    It also is tougher to wheel out “whataboutism” not that they won’t try…

    The MAGA nuts will not care in the least; but if the Democrats worked this with a modicum of competence it could be very damaging. If this was Hillary or any Democratic politician the right wing would be blasting this day in and day out non stop. It would run 24/7 on Fox for years.

    Democrats don’t seem to have that killer instinct* but here’s hoping this scandal actually has some traction.

    *Hastert Rule??? If a Democratic speaker was put in jail over molestation crimes can you imagine what the Republicans would do? From the Democrats…crickets.

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  9. teve tory says:

    It also is tougher to wheel out “whataboutism” not that they won’t try…

    Pfft. Whataboutism is easy. That’s why dumb people do it.

    Whatabout how Hillary used her Foundation to take bribes for selling all our Uraniums to the Russians while they were illegally spying on the Trump campaign? At least Trump’s foundation won’t help terrorists build a suitcase nuke. Benghazi.

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  10. EddieInCA says:

    @James Pearce:

    He wants to see Dems defend Schneiderman.

    Show me one Dem who has defended Schneiderman. Why would any Dem defend Schneiderman? He’s no longer even in office.

    Once again, you’ve proven that you don’t care about facts or even reality.

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  11. teve tory says:

    Apparently they tried to dissolve it last year when it was under investigation and were told sorry charlie nobody’s doin nuttin til it’s done.

    Trump Foundation accused of widespread illegal activities
    06/14/18 03:30 PM
    By Steve Benen
    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.

    linky

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  12. Not the IT Dept. says:

    *bleep* it, you guys are forcing me to defend Trump. You owe me bigly.

    There is a way that the foundation could have had no expenses and that would be if it were run out of his business office (so no rent or office expenses, absorbed by the company) and staffed by an existing Trump Inc. employee (often someone in the accounting department, or an executive assistant). Trump wouldn’t be the first executive who did this.

    Of course, he’s a POS who broke the rules and hasn’t got a charitable bone in his body, but strictly speaking, having no expenses to claim doesn’t mean that part was illegal.

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  13. CSK says:

    Those of us who knew exactly what Trump is, and was, since the 1980s aren’t the least surprised by this. The Trump Foundation, like Trump University, was always a scam. He’s also been on the board of those fake “who’s who” organizations that want you to pay them to list you as an officially famous person.

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  14. matt bernius says:

    This fact coming out of the investigation are just incredible. For example people who were on the board for more than a decade… not to mention that the board itself hasn’t met since 1999.

    https://theweek.com/speedreads/779101/trump-foundations-treasurer-didnt-know-treasurer-until-investigators-told

    The reality is that they have been banking on the fact that they would never be audited. Which is why so much white-collar crime flies under the radar. The lack of resources to police allows stuff like this to happen left and right.

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  15. KM says:

    @Not the IT Dept:
    OK but that’s how you break even. $18,800,000 – 0= $18,800,000, not $19,200,000. More going out then officially coming in means, at the very least, the books have some bad math in there. Where is that extra $400K coming from and why wasn’t it recorded? Money laundering comes to mind…..

    I get running a charity on the cheap but this is some grade A stupidity here. If output exceeds input with no explanation for the discrepancy, people are going to naturally assume you are lying about something. NYAG isn’t going to be the only one curious about how those books don’t add up….

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  16. teve tory says:

    MSNBC noted (as did Doug above):

    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.

    Keystone Kriminals.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @teve tory:

    Keystone Kriminals.

    No kidding. Of course as a rule criminals aren’t geniuses, but this is basic stuff. If you’re running a money scam involving millions you have to know you’re leaving a paper trail. What trail you leave has to be bleached clean. It’s been fundamental since Capone: no paper trail. You’re handing the law the weapons they’ll use against you.

    Betcha a dollar it’s been fundamentally a money-laundering/tax avoidance operation from the get-go.

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  18. mattbernius says:

    Keystone Kriminals.

    You’re not kidding.

    In 2007, to settle a dispute between the City of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the foundation paid $100,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, another charity.

    And that payment was directly ordered by Trump himself:

    Documents filed by the attorney general’s office include a note in which Mr. Trump directed staff to draw the $100,000 payment from the foundation, even though the foundation wasn’t involved in the suit. The handwritten note, on “Donald J. Trump” stationery, reads, “Allen W; DJT Foundation, $100,000 to Fisher House (settlement of Flag issue in Palm Beach).”

    It is signed with Mr. Trump’s initials.

    Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-attorney-general-sues-trump-foundation-alleging-illegal-coordination-with-trump-campaign-1528988443

    You can see a copy of that scan here: https://twitter.com/LeonHWolf/status/1007302616399872000

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    I suspect there’s quite a bit more there. It seems there have been a number of very substantial “donations” from people who one would not normally think of as charitably minded. And they seemed to have absolutely no interest in where there money went.

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  20. James Pearce says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Why would any Dem defend Schneiderman?

    This is a serious question?

    Dems won’t defend Schneiderman because he was accused of domestic violence against 4 women. Trump knows that the Dems have the Schneiderman file stamped as “DO NOT DEFEND” so he’s attacking what appears to be a legit investigation in such a way that his supporters will question its integrity and his opponents won’t defend it.

    Trump’s a gangster. And if you want this investigation to go anywhere, you should pray there is a brave soul strong enough to defend Schneiderman’s integrity, what little of it he may have.

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  21. Scott says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: This may be defensible. However, I would not go out of my way based on Trump’s tweets. Who knows if they are accurate numbers.

    The areas I’m suspicious of are this: How much of the money donated to the Foundation is Trumps. How do the donors feel about their donations being misused. How much of the donations were legitimate donations or were they payments to Trump washed through the foundation. I suspect the latter.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Everybody knows that the Orange Toddler is a complete sleazebag, so it’s amazing that anyone would even donate anything to a “charity” with his name on it…

  23. Kylopod says:

    @Pylon:

    At some point I’m pretty sure we’ll find out Trump was born in Africa.

    Well he actually is from Jamaica.

    (The neighborhood in Queens, that is.)

  24. Yank says:

    No kidding. Of course as a rule criminals aren’t geniuses, but this is basic stuff. If you’re running a money scam involving millions you have to know you’re leaving a paper trail. What trail you leave has to be bleached clean. It’s been fundamental since Capone: no paper trail. You’re handing the law the weapons they’ll use against you.

    Betcha a dollar it’s been fundamentally a money-laundering/tax avoidance operation from the get-go.

    Sad/Funny thing about this is that Trump could have gotten away with this if he never run for President.

  25. Hal_10000 says:

    Keystone Kriminals.

    I like that phrase. It’s especially apt for the Trumpists immediately going to “what about the Clinton Foundation”. One could argue that the Clinton Foundation was subject to influence peddling, sure; but everything it did was legal, documented and above-board (and they did actually put money into real charitable causes). By contrast, the Trump Foundation was opaque, law-breaking, incompetent and did nothing for charity except rent out Trump properties. The only thing the two entities really have in common is that they were both called Foundations.

    The real scandal here is that it took so long. The Trump Foundation’s behavior has been an open scandal for years. Why not do this five years ago?

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  26. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000:
    It’s almost as if this is example 1,989,346 of Trump doing something he’s accused others of doing.

  27. Scott says:

    One side matter: I didn’t look it up but I believe that this may be a reportable event with respect to Ivanka’s security clearance.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce: They don’t have to defend Schneiderman, he is another irrelevant molehill that you seem determined to make into a mountain.

    Underwood and her office filed this suit. That is what’s relevant.

  29. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    If this is but a small part of how Dennison does business…what does Mueller know about the entire enchilada?
    Can he get it out before the Republicanist traitors shut him down?

  30. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The real scandal here is that it took so long. The Trump Foundation’s behavior has been an open scandal for years. Why not do this five years ago?

    Welcome to why so much mid-level white collar crime goes on. It take a lot of resources to investigate, and those offices are way understaffed. And even with good investigations, these are often hard cases to prove — especially when other oversight organizations that should be identifying targets for investigation are equally understaffed.

    The reality is that even though this was an “open scandal” you need resources to do something about it. And in general we have, as a society, deprioritized those resources (or simply don’t want to pay for them).

  31. James Pearce says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    They don’t have to defend Schneiderman, he is another irrelevant molehill that you seem determined to make into a mountain.

    Me? No, the president.

    Look at the Trump.org statement. Look at Trump’s tweets. They’re going after Underwood, too.

  32. Kathy says:

    Pray tell, just what does a corrupt, crooked, millionaire politician need to do to have his crimes and malfeasance overlooked?

  33. KM says:

    @James Pearce :
    And you’re falling for the shiny distraction just like he wants. The rebuttal to that is what it always is – another’s sins do not excuse yours, nice try. You can point out the former AG was a scumbag all you want but it doesn’t change that Trump’s a scumbag AND a criminal so no passes. It has nothing to do with nothing.

    Not everybody looks when someone shouts “SQUIRREL!”, James.

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    You guys are missing the bigger point. The meat of this material is Corey Lewandowski seeking approval for foundation expenditures for political purposes in Iowa.

    Huge, enormous no no. Criminal and civil liability – of the nasty variety …

    Keystone Kriminals is apt; these people are the textbook definition of stupid.

  35. teve tory says:

    Trump has to’ve signed the tax documents saying the Foundation wasn’t used for political purposes. If campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was directing expenditures that’s an ironclad case of Perjury.

  36. Pylon says:

    Looks like Paul Manafort has beaten his boss to ajail cell though.

  37. James Pearce says:

    @KM:

    And you’re falling for the shiny distraction just like he wants.

    No. Far from “falling for it,” I’m warning y’all not to fall for it, as in, “don’t allow your pose to be weaponized against you by our crooked president.”

    And, look, I get it. Loaded in there is an accusation that is uncomfortable: “You’re a poseur.”

    But the idea that being accused of domestic abuse invalidates you as a human is a fricking pose, and most liberals know it. I imagine people who were raised by an abusive father they nonetheless still love and are going to call on Sunday saying and doing the most ridiculous stuff –defacing all their Miramax DVDs on Facebook Live– to maintain the pose that they’re worthy allies.

  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @teve tory:

    Not really. 990’s are normally signed by the treasurer / CFO, but any officer is normally allowable. Trump signed the return for 2015, their treasurer signed the returns for 2014 and 2016.

    The fun part is that the ostensible treasurer of this foundation had no idea he was the treasurer and the signatures on the 990s vary considerably from year to year.

    So, my question is: who signed the returns? 🙂

  39. Mister Bluster says:

    …an ironclad case of Perjury.

    Never assume anything.

    History Quiz: Who said “it’s as good as gold,” toting 50 lb of cocaine into an FBI sting?
    A) Edsel Ford
    B) John DeLorean
    C) Biff Tannen

  40. Mu says:

    The only question I have is can there be a sealed state indictment that stops statutes of limitation until he’s out of office? Typically there’s also a “have to prosecute within a limited time after the state knows” rules that might allow Trump to escape charges by simply declaring him not-indictable.

  41. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mu:

    The general view of this “a sitting president can’t be indicted while in office” dictat, which is nothing more than an untested opinion from OLC, is also that applicable SOLs are by necessity tolled as a result.

    The short version is that no sitting president has been indicted essentially because no one has actually attempted to indict one. Yet …