Think the Trump Foundation case is over? Think again.

It's another week and yet another headline in the parade of investigations into Donald Trump, his family, an...

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 3:12 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 3:12 AM

It's another week and yet another headline in the parade of investigations into Donald Trump, his family, and his businesses.

This time, it's the Trump Foundation's turn. After being used by Trump as a personal slush fund -- for money to settle legal disputes, for buying life-sized paintings of himself, and for engaging in campaign publicity stunts in Iowa -- the Trump Foundation is now being dissolved. Its remaining funds will be distributed to nonprofits, under judicial supervision, pursuant to an agreement with the New York Attorney General's Office, which has been investigating the foundation for years.

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It would seem that at least one of the chapters of the Trump scandal saga has ended. Or has it?

The headline may be that the Trump Foundation is being dissolved. But the most important item in this news story is that the New York AG's lawsuit against the foundation will continue, seeking "$2.8 million in restitution, plus penalties, and a ban on Trump and his children serving on the board of any other New York nonprofit."

Buried in those simple facts is a wealth of information about what we can expect from this investigation going forward.

First, there is the restitution to be paid. In this context, that means New York is seeking refunds for donors whose money was mishandled by the Trump Foundation. This outcome would be similar to that of the New York AG's settlement with Trump University in 2017, in which $25 million was returned to students who were defrauded. The $2.8 million New York is now seeking would be paid for by Trump and his three eldest children, who are personally named as defendants in the case. With the foundation (the other defendant) now being dissolved, any liability will have to be shouldered by the Trumps alone.

Second, there is the personal ban on Donald, Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric from serving on other New York nonprofit boards. In order to achieve this outcome, the attorney general will want to show that each of the Trumps was individually responsible for the foundation's misdeeds. They were on the board of the foundation so there are questions as to what they knew about the foundation's activity and whether they personally directed any of it. That inquiry could end with the Trumps testifying in court.

Third, there is the matter of the fifth member of the five-person Trump Foundation board: Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, the primary holding company of Donald Trump's business interests. In August, Weisselberg received an immunity deal from federal prosecutors in the Michael Cohen investigation.

Weisselberg is directly implicated in the Trump Foundation lawsuit. He was compelled to give sworn testimony in the New York AG's investigation, and critically, he stated that he had been told to fly to Iowa for a fundraiser for veterans in January 2016, days before the Iowa Republican Caucuses. He was there to sign checks with the foundation checkbook: He was generally one of the five signatories for Trump-related bank accounts and he needed to be there in case Donald Trump wanted to start handing out checks on the spot.

So Weisselberg is right in the middle of one of the most important allegations of this case: That the foundation was illegally using its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to channel money for the purpose of benefiting Trump's presidential campaign. Weisselberg, too, may need to testify in court.

Finally, there is the very fact that Trump has made an agreement with the New York AG in the first place. This alone could have been a headline, given that Donald Trump regularly boasts that he never settles lawsuits against him -- and even tweeted "I won't settle this case!" in June of this year, about the foundation case. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted in defense of the "great work" the foundation has done and attacked the New York AG's office, along with the "corrupt Clinton Foundation."

So much for all the winning that Donald Trump promised. Instead, the Trump Foundation case shows yet again that Trump will cut deals with prosecutors when it suits him and that he is not immune from justice, even though it sometimes seems to take forever to be served. This is all worth remembering as the scandals roll on. We have a long, long way to go.

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