New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday that he is opening an inquiry into the Trump Foundation, a nonprofit that has been under the spotlight recently after a series of reports by The Washington Post raised questions about its operating methods.
Schneiderman’s office already has a lawsuit going against Trump University, a now-defunct program in which “students” paid thousands of dollars to learn the mogul so-called secrets of real estate investing. He has called Trump U a “scam.”
However, public statements that Schneiderman has made about Trump raise questions about whether the attorney general is motivated by a desire to see justice done or whether the pursuit of his fellow New Yorker is a politically motivated and highly personal vendetta.
Last July, The Forward, a newspaper and website serving New York’s Jewish community, quoted Schneiderman as saying in a written statement: “As a Democrat and a Jewish American, I feel that I have a duty to help prevent such a dangerous, offensive, and grossly uninformed individual from occupying the Oval Office.”
The New York attorney general went on to say, according to The Forward story by Josh Nathan-Kazis, that Trump has “made appalling overtures to the most bigoted, ignorant segments of our society: giving explicit endorsement to anti-Semitic imagery, displaying a lack of respect for women over the course of decades, and espousing anti-immigrant policies that ignore the Constitution and threaten the fabric of our democracy.”
Schneiderman, who has been attorney general in New York since 2011, is a Democrat and Clinton supporter whom The Forward said is close to longtime liberal New York representative Gerald Nadler and is a likely candidate for governor in the future.
In an unusual op-ed in the New York Daily News last June, Schneiderman laid out the details of the fraud case his office has brought against Trump University, which he said was nothing more than “an unlicensed scheme that promised students could get rich quick by learning Trump’s ‘secret’ real estate tips from his ‘handpicked’ experts. Students were told that they would get ‘apprenticeship’ support, access to private funding sources and even a chance to meet Trump himself. Instead, our lawsuit shows, they got a high-pressure sales pitch. The three-day seminar started at $1,495, and recently released documents confirm that students were pressured to increase their credit card limits to enable them to pay as much as $35,000 for supposed special mentorship programs.”
The New York lawsuit claims that students of Trump U were defrauded of some $40 million, with $5 million going to Trump himself.
A Sept. 10 story in The Washington Post, titled “How Donald Trump retooled his charity to spend other people’s money,” said almost all the money the Trump Foundation doles out now comes from people other than Trump, who hasn’t contributed since 2008. The story also said the foundation claimed to have made contributions to five charities that had no record of any donations.
By Tuesday, the Post had partially walked back that story: in one instance, the foundation said it had made a mistake and listed a contribution to a charity with the same name but located in a different state. In two other instances, charities that said they had not received donations rechecked their records and found that they had. But the larger story stayed the same.
Earlier this year, the IRS fined the Trump Foundation $2,500 over an illegal $25,000 donation it made to a political action committee working to re-elect Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a vocal Trump supporter, in 2013. A short time after the donation, Bondi’s office declined to pursue an investigation of Trump University. But the Florida attorney general says she knew nothing of the potential inquiry.