In the warm spirit of this season of giving, President Donald Trump looks cheaper than Ebenezer Scrooge.
The commander-in-chief has been ordered to shut down the “charity” foundation bearing his name, under accusations from New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood that it functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” and engaged in “a shocking pattern of illegality” that included unlawfully linking arms with the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
Among the “charities” the Trump organization bequeathed was Trump himself – paying $10,000 for a flattering portrait of the president that was displayed at one of his golf clubs.
Another was $100,000 paid by the foundation to settle a legal dispute between the town of Palm Beach and Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Nonprofits are supposed to be devoted to charity. But the attorney general says the Trump Foundation was used to score political points.
As one example, Corey Lewandowski, then the Trump campaign’s manager, directed foundation money to be spread around Iowa only days before that state’s nominating caucuses.
The New York attorney general’s office wants the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution. That’s the amount raised for the foundation at an Iowa fund-raiser held on the very day Trump avoided taking part in a debate with Republican primary opponents.
In the last six years, Trump has given none of his own money to the foundation, which has relied solely on outside donations.
All this, in a week in which Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, and his pal David Pecker, who runs the National Enquirer, have reportedly told prosecutors it was Trump himself – just weeks before the 2016 election – who steered $280,000 in hush money payments to cover sexual affairs with a porn star and a Playboy model.
The news also arrives as Washington wrestles with the possibility of a government shutdown, set into motion recently when Trump met in front of TV cameras with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
Trump insisted he would “proudly” shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for his wall at the U.S. southern border. That shutdown deadline is midnight on Friday.
A shutdown would mean about 800,000 federal employees going without paychecks until the government went back into business.
Imagine the let-them-eat-cake optics: nearly a million families with no paychecks, unable to pay bills at Christmas, at the same time President Trump spends 16 days golfing at Mar-a-Lago.
In this holiday season, with the news of Trump’s charity scandal, and a possible government shutdown, we’re reminded of his boast that he would bring new spirit to the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
As indeed he has – as spirited as a lump of coal.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.