Trump Will Shut Foundation to Avoid ‘Appearance of Conflict’

  • Has directed counsel to take steps, timing of move unclear
  • NY AG, probing foundation, says too soon for legal dissolution

Donald Trump said he intends to dissolve his charitable foundation to resolve concerns about possible ethics conflicts.

“To avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways,” the president-elect said in a statement on Saturday.

Trump’s move seeks to address just one aspect of his sprawling international business dealings that have led to assessments he will take office on Jan. 20 with more potential conflicts of interest than any U.S. president in history.

His foundation has been investigated by New York’s attorney general since telling the Internal Revenue Service that it violated rules preventing leaders of nonprofit organizations from using a charity’s money to benefit themselves or other “disqualified” people.

That admission followed a Washington Post report that foundation money was used to pay for legal settlements for Trump’s businesses, including a dispute over an oversized flagpole at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holidays, and to purchase sports memorabilia and other items.

“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,” Trump said in his statement.

For a QuickTake on Trump’s potential conflicts, click here.

Much of the focus on the foundation has been on its practice of collecting and donating money from other people, even as Trump’s own contributions flagged. The foundation reported assets of about $1.27 million at the end of 2014, according to an IRS filing.

Necessary Steps

Trump has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to accomplish the dissolution, his transition team said in the statement. The statement didn’t specify if that will occur before Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

However, the foundation “cannot legally dissolve until investigation complete,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said on Twitter.

Trump’s statement came hours after the New York Times reported that the president-elect and members of his family were hurrying to resolve potential conflicts as inauguration day looms. Son Eric Trump this week said he would stop directly soliciting contributions for his own charitable foundation to avoid the risk of donors trying to use him to gain access to his father. The president-elect bemoaned the move on Twitter as “a ridiculous shame.”

Concerns Linger

Some good-government groups say the end of the Trump Foundation won’t end their concerns.

“The announcement that the foundation will be shut down is a necessary first step for the incoming administration to avoid massive ethics problems,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the Washington based-Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in an e-mail.

“The foundation’s past instances of wrongdoing must be fully investigated and president-elect Trump must sell his businesses and take comprehensive steps to prevent conflicts of interest for him and his administration,” Bookbinder said.

Five Senate Democrats have used Trump’s global web of business activities, some details of which are known while others are opaque, as the motivation for a bill they plan to introduce in January to require the president and vice president to disclose and divest any potential financial conflicts of interest. Trump broke with decades of tradition during his presidential run by declining to release his federal tax returns.

The Democratic National Committee issued an e-mail statement Saturday that said Trump still hasn’t taken any "concrete steps" to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

“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,” DNC Deputy Communications Director Eric Walker said in the statement.

The lawmakers in November also filed a resolution stating the Senate’s expectation that Trump needs to divest all of his business interests and holdings and sever his affiliation with the Trump Organization to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting gifts or benefits from foreign governmental actors.

“The American people deserve to know that the president of the United States is working to do what’s best for the country -- not using his office to do what’s best for himself and his businesses,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said at the time.

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