He used his namesake charity to benefit himself, both financially and politically. He broke state and federal law multiple times. His charity may have violated tax and campaign finance law. The president of the United States should be banned from running any charity in New York for a decade because he was so reckless and unethical with his.
That's the bottom line of a stunning lawsuit filed against President Trump and his three oldest children Thursday in New York. It comes from New York's attorney general, who announced the lawsuit after a nearly two-year investigation by New York authorities of wrongdoing at the Trump Foundation.
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 in public service for themselves only. 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 a Trump critic.
Of course, Trump is facing numerous ethical and legal inquiries that include his business practices as president, his fidelity to his wife and payments to women to allegedly keep them quiet, whether he forcibly kissed and groped women, and whether he tried to obstruct an FBI investigation into his presidential 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.
For example, a former “Apprentice” contestant is suing Trump, alleging that he defamed her and other Trump accusers when he called them “liars.” The lawsuit, which courts have allowed to go forward, could provide evidence of Trump allegedly kissing Summer Zervos a decade ago and then groping her a month later.
But those are two moments in Trump's life. Despite what the evidence may or may not present in the Zervos lawsuit, those moments can and probably will be rationalized by some Trump supporters. Or he'll continue to deny groping more than a dozen women against their will.
Here's another lawsuit that could bounce off Trump, politically speaking: The District of Columbia and Maryland allege that Trump receives unconstitutionally improper payments from foreign governments by their staying at his D.C. Trump hotel. That's an esoteric argument that doesn't necessarily involve the president's own actions. His defenders can plausibly argue that these foreign governments made their own decision to stay at the president's hotel, just blocks from the White House.
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 said: “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.