WASHINGTON - The state of New York has opened an investigation into the family foundation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after published reports claimed that he has not donated any money to the charity since 2008 and once used the foundation's money to buy a life-sized portrait of himself.
"We have been concerned that the Trump Foundation has engaged in impropriety," New York's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said Tuesday. He previously had alleged that the real estate investment courses that Trump promoted at Trump University amounted to "straight up fraud" because students were taught little after paying thousands of dollars in tuition. Trump has rejected those accusations.
The family foundations operated by Trump and his Democratic opponent, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, have figured prominently in their 2016 campaigns leading to the November 8 national election to pick the successor to President Barack Obama. Republicans have accused Clinton of operating a "pay to play" scheme, giving wealthy Clinton Foundation donors access to officials at the State Department while she served as the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.
Schneiderman said, "We have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it's complying with the laws governing charities in New York." Democrats in the House of Representatives also asked the national government's Justice Department to investigate the circumstances of Trump's $25,000 political donation to the Florida attorney general at a time when her office was deciding whether to open a probe of Trump University operations and then did not.
‘Left-wing hit job’
Trump called Schneiderman's new investigation "another left-wing hit job."
The Washington Post reported that Trump spent $20,000 that had been set aside for charitable purposes to buy a 1.8-meter painting of himself.
President Barack Obama, in a rousing endorsement of Clinton as his successor at a rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, praised her family's charitable work while mocking Trump's.
“You want to debate foundations and charities?” he asked. “One candidate’s family foundation has saved countless lives around the world. The other candidate’s foundation took money other people gave to his charity and then bought a six-foot tall painting of himself.”
He joked, “I mean, he had the taste not to go for the 10-foot version.…”
The back-and-forth accusations over the Trump and Clinton foundations came as leaked emails from Colin Powell, another former U.S. secretary of state who served under Republican presidents, showed him offering negative views about both candidates.
In one June email, Powell called Trump a "national disgrace and an international pariah."
In another message, he complained about Clinton's handling of emails using her unsecured private email server rather than a more secure government server while she was at the State Department. He complained she was trying to link her email system to the somewhat similar way Powell handled his email when he was secretary of state from 2001 to 2005.
"Everything [Clinton] touches she kind of screws up with hubris," Powell wrote last year. In another one, in early 2016, he said, "I didn't tell Hillary to have a private server at home, connected to the Clinton Foundation, two contractors, took away 60,000 emails, had her own domain."
Clinton has repeatedly said she made a mistake in using the private email server. U.S. investigators concluded in July that she was "extremely careless" in her handling of national security material in the emails but that no criminal charges were warranted.
Clinton remained off the campaign trail for a third day Wednesday as she recuperates at her New York home from pneumonia. Aides said she plans to resume campaigning Thursday with a speech in the mid-Atlantic state of North Carolina, one of numerous closely-contested states where she and Trump have made frequent appearances.
National polls continue to show Trump closing the 8-percentage-point advantage Clinton enjoyed last month, now down to a 2-point edge.
Trump and Clinton square off in the first of three planned face-to-face debates on September 26, with the other two set for October.