One of those whims, the AG alleges, was backing his presidential campaign. In 2016, Trump skipped a GOP primary debate in a fit of pique, counter-programming with a rally to celebrate veterans. It was a campaign rally, and it solicited donations from the public for veterans’ organizations. Roughly half of the $5.6 million raised went to the Trump Foundation, but the foundation allowed the Trump campaign to direct how funds were spent.
The petition includes communications between then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and the Trump Foundation’s treasurer, Allen Weisselberg. “[W]e should start thinking about how you want to distribute the funds collected for the Vets,” Weisselberg wrote Lewandowski, who replied that he wanted them made just before the Iowa caucuses: “Is there any way we can make some disbursements this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday.”
When Trump presented oversized checks with the funds, the props were labeled with his campaign’s logo and slogan as well as the name of the foundation. In some cases, the props were given before the foundation had actually cut any checks. The petition cites Trump as saying on the trail that his donations aided his political standing.
“Mr. Trump was aware of the prohibition on political activities and the requirement of restrictions on related party transactions,” the petition says, noting that he had to sign statements under penalty of perjury acknowledging that.
The foundation was also either surprisingly sloppy with large sums of money or else sought to mislead the government about its donations. In a 2013 case, the Trump Foundation made a $25,000 donation to And Justice for All, a political organization led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a close Trump ally. Yet when the foundation filed its tax returns, it reported a $25,000 donation to Justice for All, a similarly named but entirely separate charity located in Kansas, rather than Florida. The foundation then claimed, falsely, in its tax return that it had not contributed to any political organizations.
Finally, Trump also used his foundation to settle his own personal legal troubles and to promote himself. In 2007, the Trump Foundation made a $100,000 donation to settle a suit brought by the city of Palm Beach against Mar-a-Lago, his estate there. It made donations in exchange for promotion of a hotel. It also paid $10,000 to buy a portrait of Trump. Each of these violates rules against self-dealing. The petition even includes a handwritten note from Trump to Weisselberg asking him to donate $100,000 to resolve the Mar-a-Lago suit:
Given how clearly the Trump Foundation was, according to the allegations, breaking the rules, it’s surprising how much written documentation officers created, leaving a paper trail for the AG.
Even without the documentation, though, the allegations fit with how the president conducts himself. Throughout his career, he has tended to mix his own personal interests with those of the Trump Organization. As a candidate, that continued: He based his campaign at Trump Tower, and his campaign often paid the Trump Organization or other assets for services rendered. As president, he has not separated himself from his business assets, and has treated the Trump Hotel in Washington as an adjunct of his administration, visiting frequently and using it for fundraisers.