NY Attorney General Hinders Trump Plan to Shutter Foundation

Trump's eponymous foundation has been under investigation since the fall.

ByABC News
December 26, 2016, 4:49 PM

— -- Donald Trump's plan to dissolve his eponymous foundation is already running into a roadblock from the New York Attorney General's office, which says the organization can't close while its probe is ongoing.

Trump announced this weekend that the move to close the Donald J. Trump Foundation comes "to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President" and he added "I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways."

The president-elect has been under fire from critics who say that his web of global business interests, as well as those of his children, who are part of his transition team, potentially pose serious conflicts when he assumes office.

Trump has said that his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., will take over his business, but a detailed plan has not been provided.

The Donald J. Trump foundation came under the eye of the New York AG's office this fall, which ordered the organization, in a letter, to stop fundraising as of September since it had not obtained the proper certification to solicit money from the public. The foundation also cannot disburse its assets while under investigation, a source with knowledge of the case told ABC News.

The investigation stemmed from a $25,000 donation the charity gave a campaign fundraising group for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Both Trump and Bondi denied impropriety, with a Trump representative saying it was a clerical error. Trump paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS because of regulations that prohibit charities from giving political donations. Trump paid back the $25,000 to his foundation.

Amy Spitalnick, the press secretary for the New York Attorney General's office, says the investigation will prevent Trump from shuttering the organization immediately.

"The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete," Spitalnick said in a statement to ABC News.

"The Foundation's fundraising activities remain suspended following the AG's notice of violation earlier this year."

The 990 IRS filing for tax year 2015, which is the most recent such form that is publicly available, shows that the foundation had more than $1.1 million in assets at the end of that year.

When ABC News asked the Trump campaign for a response to the Attorney General's office statement about how they would not allow any dissolution to take place while the foundation is under investigation, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks pointed back to their original statement announcing plans to dismantle the foundation, saying via email: "As the statement says, 'Mr. Trump has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to effectuate the dissolution.'"

In a statement earlier this year after the launch of the AG's investigation, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said: "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a partisan hack who has turned a blind eye to the Clinton Foundation for years and has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President," calling the inquiry into the Foundation "nothing more than another left-wing hit job."

PHOTO: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks during a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General, Sept. 13, 2016, in New York.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks during a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General, Sept. 13, 2016, in New York.

The spending history of the Trump Foundation became a part of the presidential campaign when The Washington Post reported that Trump made two payments totaling $258,000 from the charity to settle lawsuits relating to two of his for-profit businesses.

The Trump team did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment when news of The Washington Post story broke, but released a statement after the Post's story at the time, saying it was "peppered with inaccuracies and omissions."

Lloyd Mayer, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, told ABC News that if the allegations made by the Post are true, the payments violate federal law.

"Federal tax law bars a private foundation like the Trump Foundation from using its assets to benefit its insiders or the businesses they own. That’s exactly what’s been alleged here. If true, the foundation and its managers, including Mr. Trump, violated tax laws," Mayer told ABC News.

Questions were also raised about who had -- and hadn't -- given to the foundation. The number of contributors ranges from as many as six in 2002, 2008, 2012 and 2014 to as few as two in 2001 and 2014, according to publicly available IRS 990 forms from 2001 through 2014.

The president-elect made contributions to the foundation from 2001 until 2008, but he is not listed as making any financial contributions since then.

His contributions range from $713,000 in 2004 to $30,000 in 2008; his total contributions to his foundation are in excess of $2.7 million, the 990 forms show.

The biggest contribution ever made to the foundation came from World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) for $4 million in 2007. The WWE also gave the Trump Foundation its second-biggest contribution -- for $1 million -- in 2009.

The WWE was co-founded by Linda McMahon, who was announced this month as Trump's pick to head the Small Business Administration (SBA).

ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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