A newly reported investigation into Donald Trump's charity foundation could be the first step in yielding criminal charges against the president and first family.
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance’s probe likely covers many of the same charges against the Trump Foundation included in a lawsuit brought on by the state’s attorney general earlier this year, the New York Times reported. Mr Trump's organisation has been accused of self-dealing, illegally coordinating with his 2016 campaign and violating campaign finance laws in an effort to fund his presidential bid.
If the investigation yields evidence of criminal activity, the state could choose to present those findings to a grand jury or law enforcement agency, potentially leading to a criminal referral or indictments.
When asked to confirm the existence of the probe, New York State Department of Taxation and Finance press officer James Dazelle told The Independent : "We don’t comment on investigations".
The New York attorney general’s lawsuit lists the Trump Foundation as a respondent, along with Mr Trump, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. In it, the first family is accused of "improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law."
A June 2016 investigation into the president’s foundation found that the charity "operated without any oversight by a functioning board of directors" which "resulted in the misuse of charitable assets for the benefit of Donald J Trump and his personal, political and/or business interests," according to the lawsuit.
The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000. I won’t settle this case!...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2018
Mr Trump described the lawsuit as "ridiculous" in a series of tweets in June, describing the state attorney general’s office as "the sleazy New York Democrats” and vowing not to settle the case.
He previously said he would not settle a class-action lawsuit against Trump University, however, before agreeing to a $25m settlement.
If the lawsuit finds his organisation was in violation of campaign finance laws, the Trump Foundation could be dissolved and the first family could be barred from serving in other charities throughout the state.
Further, a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation could find evidence of illegal activity beyond the accusations listed in the attorney general’s lawsuit. Such findings would essentially make it impossible for the Trump Foundation or the first family to avoid criminal charges.
The lawsuit and reported probe reflect the president’s ongoing feud with legislators in his hometown of New York City. Andrew Cuomo, the state governor who is facing a primary challenge from the progressive Cynthia Nixon, has become a symbol of the resistance movement against Mr Trump and his White House administration.
On Thursday, the Trump Foundation did not immediately respond to enquiries.
A campaign led by Ms Nixon has been urging the governor to provide the attorney general's office with a criminal referral against the Trump Foundation for several months.
"The foundation ceded control over the grants to the campaign, making an improper in-kind contribution of no less than $2.823 million (the amount donated to the Foundation) to the campaign that provided Mr. Trump and the Campaign a means to take credit at campaign rallies, press briefings, and on the Internet, for gifts to veterans charities," the lawsuit alleges. "This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets."