(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Donald Trump has been ordered by a judge to pay $2m in damages for illegally using funds intended for charity to boost his 2016 presidential election campaign.
The US president admitted to personally misusing the money, according to New York’s attorney general, despite having previously denied any wrongdoing.
The humiliating fine adds to Trump’s woes that include several investigations into allegations that he is using public office for self-enrichment, as well as an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.
The attorney general in New York filed a lawsuit last year alleging Trump and his three eldest children – Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric – broke campaign finance laws in 2016 by using the Donald J Trump Foundation’s tax-exempt status “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr Trump’s business and political interests”.
There was “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more,” the suit argued.
On Thursday, Justice Saliann Scarpulla ordered the Trump family to pay $2m to a group of not-for-profit organizations as part of a settlement with the New York state attorney general’s office after “persistent” violations of charities law.
In particular, the judge agreed that Trump “breached his fiduciary duty” with a purported foundation fundraiser in January 2016, ahead of the Iowa caucuses in the Republican party primary, that was in fact a campaign event.
In the agreements, Trump admitted to misusing funds from the foundation, which he dissolved last year, including to pay for a portrait himself that cost $10,000. He also agreed to pay back $11,525 he spent on sports memorabilia and champagne at a charity gala.
The New York attorney general, Letitia James, had been seeking $2.8m in restitution from the president, but this was trimmed by Scarpulla to $2m. The judge also declined James’s request for a ban on the Trump family serving on the board of any not-for-profit organization in New York.
Even so, James, a Democrat, welcomed the resolution of the case. “The court’s decision, together with the settlements we negotiated, are a major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain,” she said.
“No one is above the law, not a businessman, not a candidate for office and not even the president of the United States,” she said.
Her office added in a statement that Trump “admits to personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation” – a rare event for a president who generally prefers to deny, distract or punch back.
It added: “In the first half of 2016 – at the height of the Republican primaries – Mr Trump used foundation money, raised from the public, to demonstrate his purported generosity and attract votes. Mr Trump and his campaign doled out $500,000 at a campaign rally in the days leading up to the first primary election in the nation, the Iowa caucuses, then took credit for all $2.8m in grants the foundation made.”
Trump spent part of the 2016 election campaign fiercely attacking Hillary Clinton over alleged corruption at the Clinton Foundation but never produced evidence to support his claims.
He has long defended his own foundation and made clear his feelings about the legal action.
Following the ruling, he tweeted a long and unrepentant statement. “I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give major money to charity ($19M), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State,” he wrote.