President Donald Trump | Photo: Reuters
When Donald Trump
offered to pay $10,000 from his personal charitable foundation for a six-foot oil portrait of himself, the future president only meant to “get the bidding started” during a 2014 auction at his Mar-a-Lago resort, his lawyer told a New York judge.
“No one else bid,” attorney Alan Futerfas said in a packed Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, so “he’s stuck with the painting.” Trump’s lawyer offered the account as one of several reasons why New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation should be tossed out, arguing that the transactions at the center of the case have innocent explanations or were corrected by the charity.
For example, Futerfas said it was “troubling” that Underwood would focus on a payment that was made to benefit a charity that aids children and young adults with developmental disabilities. He also claims the suit is politically biased, part of an effort by Democrats to undermine Trump’s presidency.
But Underwood claims in the lawsuit that the nonprofit was little more than Trump’s “piggy bank,” and that legitimate donations were overshadowed by rampant violations of state charity law and the use of donated funds for business purposes. She’s seeking to dissolve the charity and to ban the president from serving on a New York not-for-profit for 10 years.
“It is beyond dispute that these were improper self-dealing transactions,” Yael Fuchs, a lawyer for the attorney general, said at the hearing. New York State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla ended the hearing without making a ruling, after largely shutting down Futerfas’s assertions of political bias by Underwood. “I don’t want to get into that,” Scarpulla said.
The case will instead hinge on Underwood’s claims about campaign finance violations and the various transactions by the Trump Foundation, including the portrait acquisition. Underwood alleges that after Trump misused charity cash to buy the painting, he gained further benefit from the work when the Trump Organization hung it on the wall of Trump’s hotel in Doral, Florida.
“This was improper self-dealing, since foundation money was used to buy a painting to decorate a Trump business property,” the attorney general said in a court filing. But Futerfas says the portrait only graced the hotel’s walls because staff found it sitting in a storage room and didn’t realise it belonged to the charity.
Shortly after the election, amid media scrutiny, the hotel returned the painting to the charity and paid it $185.82 plus interest as a fair rental value.