WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump says he will dissolve his charitable foundation before taking office to avoid conflicts of interest. The Democratic Party says that’s not enough and is calling for the billionaire businessman to put his assets in a blind trust.
The New York attorney general’s office has been investigating the foundation following media reports that foundation spending went to benefit Trump’s campaign. A spokeswoman says the foundation cannot close until the investigation is complete.
Trump said in a statement Saturday that he has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to implement the dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, saying that it operated “at essentially no cost for decades, with 100 percent of the money going to charity.”
“The foundation has done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups, including supporting veterans, law enforcement officers and children,” he said in a statement.
“I will be devoting so much time and energy to the presidency and solving the many problems facing our country and the world. I don’t want to allow good work to be associated with a possible conflict of interest,” he said.
Trump said he will pursue philanthropic efforts in other ways, but he didn’t elaborated on how he’d do so.
The Democratic National Committee criticized Trump for what it called “a wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving.”
The statement from party spokesman Eric Walker also took a jab at the president-elect over his controversial business holdings: “Shuttering a charity is no substitute for divesting from his for-profit business and putting the assets in a blind trust — the only way to guarantee separation between the Trump administration and the Trump business.”
A 2015 tax return posted on the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar shows the Donald J. Trump Foundation acknowledged that it used money or assets in violation of IRS regulations — not only during 2015, but in prior years.
Those regulations prohibit self-dealing by the charity. That’s broadly defined as using its money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.
The tax filing doesn’t provide details on the violations. Whether Trump benefited from the foundation’s spending has been the subject of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
In September, Schneiderman disclosed that his office has been investigating Trump’s charity to determine whether it has abided by state laws governing nonprofits.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press in September showed Schneiderman’s scrutiny of The Donald J. Trump Foundation dated back to at least June, when his office formally questioned the donation made by the charity to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi personally solicited the money during a 2013 phone call that came after her office received complaints from former students claiming they were scammed by Trump University, Trump’s get-rich-quick real estate seminars.
The Trump Foundation check arrived just days after Bondi’s office told a newspaper it was reviewing a lawsuit against Trump University filed by Schneiderman. Bondi’s office never sued Trump, though she denies his donation played any role in that decision.
Trump later paid a $2,500 fine over the check from his foundation because it violated federal law barring charities from making political contributions.
Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for Schneiderman’s office, said Saturday that the foundation “cannot legally dissolve” until the investigation is complete.
The charitable foundation was ordered to immediately stop fundraising in New York just weeks before the general election, Schneiderman’s office saying it wasn’t registered to do so. The N.Y. attorney general’s office said in October the Trump Foundation had a registration for an organization with assets in New York, but the law requires a different registration for those that solicit more than $25,000 a year from the public. It complied with the order and stopped its fundraising activities.
Trump was highly critical of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s family charity, the Clinton Foundation, saying without evidence that she ran “a vast criminal enterprise run out of the State Department” while she was secretary of state. At the final presidential debate, he challenged Clinton to “give back the money” that came from donors in countries that fail to respect various human rights.
More than half the people outside the government who met with Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. The proportion indicated possible ethics challenges had she been elected president.
Trump’s announcement to dissolve his own foundation came a day after the president-elect took to Twitter to declare it a “ridiculous shame” that his son Eric will have to stop soliciting funds for his charitable foundation, the Eric Trump Foundation, because of a conflict of interest.
“My wonderful son, Eric, will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency,” Trump tweeted. “He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them, and now must stop. Wrong answer!”
Trump was spending the Christmas weekend at his South Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, his retreat for most holidays. He and his wife, Melania, attended services Saturday night at an Episcopal church in Palm Beach.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.
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