At first glance, the fact that a New York state judge ruled Thursday that President Trump had to pay $2 million to a variety of nonprofit organizations as a penalty for the Trump Foundation’s abuse of its charitable status during the 2016 election might strike you as yet another story of the abnormality of the President.
And it is! But it’s more than that too! Make no mistake about what this ruling means: Trump and his family used their nonprofit as a slush fund for the campaign, using money raised ostensibly for veterans to further his own political interests.
At issue is a fundraiser that Trump held — ostensibly to benefit his charity — just four days before the Iowa caucus vote in January 2016. Trump was feuding with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly at the time and refused to participate in the network’s debate — saying he would instead raise money for veterans.
Turns out that the entire event was organized and run by Trump senior campaign officials and, according to the judge’s ruling on Thursday, the money that was raised — $2.8 million — was used “to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.”
Trump agreed to shutter his foundation at the end of last year amid allegations that it was used as, effectively, a personal checking account for his (and his family’s) personal and political interests. But, the civil lawsuit seeking restitution for the money that was raised continued on.
Now, of course, Trump said last year — via Twitter — that he was the subject of false accusations in the case and would never settle. Tweeteth Trump:
“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!”
Except, well, he did. Here’s CNN’s write-up of the judge’s decision on Thursday:
“Lawyers on both sides, however, came to a ‘consensual resolution of the bulk of this proceeding’ in October, the judge said in her decision, and agreed that the judge would determine the amount of damages Trump would be required to pay.”
All of that is in keeping with what we already knew about the Trump Foundation, which is that since its formation in 1987, it’s been little more than a vehicle for Trump to feather his own nest. As the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Trump Foundation, wrote when the charity finally closed:
“The shuttering comes after The Washington Post documented apparent lapses at the foundation. Trump used the charity’s money to pay legal settlements for his private business, to purchase art for one of his clubs and to make a prohibited political donation.”
Throughout the process, Trump denied that the foundation had done anything wrong despite Fahrenthold’s increasing mountain of evidence that suggested the charity rarely made donations — including to causes and people Trump claimed it had.
Which is bad enough. But, it’s not as bad as what happened Thursday.
Don’t get this twisted: Donald Trump, the man who, at every turn, touts himself as the greatest advocate in the history of the world for military veterans, used the money he raised in their honor to improve his political standing. And agreed to settle the case after pledging to fight the charges to the bitter end.
Those are facts — whether Donald Trump acknowledges them or not.