Judge: Trump Not Immune to Prosecution in Charity Case

Rules the suit doesn't involve action taken by Trump as president
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 24, 2018 5:30 AM CST
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he has Thanksgiving Day dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(Newser) – A New York judge has rejected a bid by Donald Trump's lawyers to throw out a state lawsuit that alleges the president disregarded the law in running his charitable foundation and used it as a wing of his presidential campaign. But, in the ruling posted Friday, State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla reiterated that she would be forced to drop Trump from the lawsuit if a state appeals court weighing an unrelated case decides that a sitting president can't be sued in state court. In the meantime, Scarpulla said, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood's lawsuit alleging that Trump used the nonprofit Trump Foundation's money to settle business disputes and boost his political fortunes can move forward, reports the AP. What you need to know:

  • The suit seeks $2.8 million in restitution, the foundation's disbandment, and a 10-year ban on Trump running any charities.

  • Scarpulla rebuffed the contention of Trump's lawyers that the lawsuit was politically motivated. Given the seriousness of the allegations, she said, there was no basis for finding that "animus and bias were the sole motivating factors" for the lawsuit.
  • Whether Trump remains a defendant in the Trump Foundation case hinges on how a state appeals court rules in former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos' defamation lawsuit against the president. Trump's lawyers argue that a sitting president can't be sued in state court over conduct outside official duties, something Scarpulla and the trial judge in the Zervos case reject.
  • As for the argument that the state court doesn't have jurisdiction over the president, Scarpulla wrote in her ruling that allowing the Trump Foundation case to proceed in state court is "entirely consistent" with the Supreme Court's 1997 ruling that forced then-President Bill Clinton to face a federal sexual harassment lawsuit concerning an alleged encounter while he was governor. CNBC reports Scarpulla wrote "the allegations raised in the Petition do not involve any action taken by Mr. Trump as president and any potential remedy would not affect Mr. Trump’s official federal duties.”
  • If the appellate division were to side with Trump in the Zervos case, the Trump Foundation lawsuit could still proceed against the foundation and Trump's adult children, who were board members.
  • Underwood welcomed the ruling; Trump's lawyer, Alan Futerfas, said he's confident the president's side will ultimately prevail. "The decision means only that the case goes forward," Futerfas said in a statement. "As we have maintained throughout, all of the money raised by the Foundation went to charitable causes to assist those most in need."
(Read more on the case and its origins here.)

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