New York Attorney General Sues Trump and His Children for Misuse of Charitable Foundation

Trump allegedly used his nonprofit for political and personal purposes.

Patrick Semansky/AP

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his three oldest adult children, accusing the president and his family of misusing Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, in a “pattern of illegal conduct.” According to the lawsuit—which asks Trump to pay a $2.8 million fine, shut down the charity, and be banned from running another charity for 10 years—that illegal conduct included “improper and extensive political activity [and] repeated and willful self-dealing transactions.” Underwood also claimed the Trumps, as members of the charity’s board, failed to “implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”

A major part of Underwood’s lawsuit is an accusation that the president allowed his political campaign to control the distribution of $2.8 million he had raised at a January 2016 fundraiser for veterans. Trump held the fundraiser instead of participating in the final GOP presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses. 

Underwood included copies of internal Trump Organization emails showing that then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was trying to manage high-profile donations before voters went to the caucuses.

If the money was used in an effort to influence the election, that would not only be a possible violation of state and federal law; it would also be a potential campaign finance violation. In a series of tweets about the case, Underwood said she sent letters to the Internal Revenue Service, which regulates nonprofits, and the Federal Election Commission, asking them to consider investigating the charity.

Trump reacted angrily to the lawsuit, accusing Underwood of cooking up a fake political scandal.

Aside from the allegations about using the charity for political purposes, Underwood charges that Trump used the nonprofit to benefit his own businesses on at least five occasions, making donations or payments that arguably solved a problem for the for-profit side of the Trump empire. One cited example was the payment of $100,000 to a charity in Florida, which the elder Trump had agreed to donate to settle a dispute with the town of Palm Beach over zoning rules.


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.