President Donald Trump downplayed the findings in a case against his namesake charitable foundation, claiming the judge had found only “some small technical violations.” Actually, in a settlement announced this week, the judge ruled that Trump “breached his fiduciary duty” to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in service of his 2016 presidential campaign.
The ruling was part of a settlement to a June 2018 case filed by the office of the New York state attorney general against Trump, his three eldest children and their charitable foundation. The lawsuit alleged that the Trump Foundation had long “operated in persistent violation of state and federal law governing New York State charities” by, among other things, allowing Trump’s 2016 campaign committee to direct and coordinate the foundation’s televised fundraiser for veterans in Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2016.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Nov. 7, Trump called the lawsuit a form of “politically motivated harassment,” and seemingly dismissed the judge’s ruling as insignificant. “All they found was incredibly effective philanthropy and some small technical violations, such as not keeping board minutes,” Trump’s statement read.
There was more to it than that.
In her ruling on Nov. 7, state Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla wrote that the parties resolved most of the attorney general’s claims on their own, but left it to her to determine what Trump would have to personally pay for his alleged misuse of his foundation.
“A review of the record … establishes that Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation and that waste occurred to the Foundation,” she wrote. “Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.”
Scarpulla said that she found that the $2.8 million raised at the Iowa fundraiser “was used for Mr. Trump’s political campaign and disbursed by Mr. Trump’s campaign staff, rather than by the Foundation, in violation” of several laws. However, she ordered Trump to pay $2 million in waste damages — not the full $2.8 million sought by the attorney general — because “the Funds did ultimately reach their intended destinations, i.e., charitable organizations supporting veterans,” she wrote.
Trump will pay the $2 million to eight previously agreed upon charities, which also will share the now-dissolved Trump Foundation’s remaining $1.8 million in assets.
As part of the settlement agreement, Trump and his lawyers also acknowledged past instances in which Trump had caused his foundation to make payments on behalf of some of his businesses, including Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. And Trump agreed to reimburse $11,525 to the foundation for a payment it made for auction items at a charitable benefit.