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The Donald J. Trump Foundation is a New York-based private foundation founded and chaired by President of the United States Donald Trump. It has been a source of controversy, criticism and scrutiny. The foundation has been fined for making political contributions and admitted engaging in self-dealing practices to benefit Trump, his family, and businesses. On December 24, 2016 Trump claimed he intends to dissolve the foundation, although, as of July 2017 has not done so.This article is part of
President of the United States
2016 presidential election
Donald Trump established the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 1988 as a private foundation. It was founded to donate the proceeds from the book Trump: The Art of the Deal. It operated from Trump's business office in New York and has no paid staff. The board of directors consisted of Donald Trump, his three adult children and a Trump Organization employee. In 2015, a Trump Organization spokesperson told The New York Post that Trump makes all decisions regarding the granting of Trump Foundation money. On December 24, 2016, Trump said he plans to dissolve the foundation in order to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
Like many private foundations, it conducted no charitable programs of its own; instead, it granted money to other tax-exempt organizations. According to the foundation's recent IRS Form 990 filing, in making grants it did not impose on its directors any "restrictions or limitations on awards such as by geographical areas, charitable fields, kinds of institutions, or other factors".Sources of foundation money
Since inception through 2015, Trump has contributed $5.5 million to the Trump Foundation while outside donors have contributed an additional $9.3 million. Since making a $35,000 gift in 2008, Trump has made no additional personal donations since 2015. Many of the outside donors have done business with Trump or the Trump Organization. Several philanthropy experts note that having a family foundation without any family money is unusual.
The top donors to the foundation from 2004 to 2014 were Vince and Linda McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). They jointly donated $5 million to the foundation after Trump appeared at WrestleMania in 2007 and 2009. The donations were filed by the Trump Foundation as coming from the WWE, though the WWE said the money had come from Vince and Linda McMahon personally.Investigations by The Washington Post and others
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post initiated an investigation into Trump's history of charitable giving. Trump had claimed in January 2016 that he had raised $6,000,000 for veteran's causes at a rally held on the date of a scheduled televised Republican debate, which he had skipped. The $6,000,000 purportedly included $1,000,000 of his own money. The Post began its investigation by attempting to verify the donations and identify the beneficiary charities of the $6,000,000. The Post found that, several months after the rally, the Trump Foundation had yet to disburse funds to any veteran-related charities. The investigation eventually widened into a larger investigation into Trump's history of charitable giving.
In June 2016, in response to criticism, Trump asserted publicly that he had given approximately $102 million to charitable causes from 2009 through 2015 and released a 93-page list of the beneficiaries of the money. Subsequent reporting by the Post and other news organizations found that many of the donations Trump claimed as having made personally over this 5-year period were made out of Trump Foundation, which by 2009, no longer held any money donated by Trump. Further investigations led to an increasing list of allegations of abuse inside the foundation since its creation.
Fahrenthold's investigation into the Trump Foundation and Trump's history of personal charitable giving involved hundreds of calls to charities associated with Donald Trump; it was also notable in that he drew heavily on support and investigative help from a large number of his Twitter followers who helped him track down leads on specific charities. Fahrenthold received the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his investigations into the Trump Foundation.Legal and ethical controversies External audio Journalist Says Trump Foundation May Have Engaged In 'Self-Dealing', 37:18, September 28, 2016, Fresh Air with Terry Gross Interview with David Fahrenthold See also: Legal affairs of Donald Trump
Accusations against Trump and his foundation include the following:Solicitation of donations without a license
Under New York State law, a not-for-profit foundation must register as a "7A Charitable Organization" if it plans to solicit outside donations in excess of $25,000 in any year. The Trump Foundation was initially registered as a private foundation set up solely to receive his own personal donations. As long as it was registered as a private foundation and not soliciting outside funds, it did not have to file annual audited reports with the New York State Charities Bureau However, records show that Trump began soliciting donations at least as early as 2004 and possibly as early as 1989.Delay in granting donations solicited for veterans organizations' benefit
In April 2016, Fox News reported that, more than two months after Trump said he had raised $6 million for military veterans at a pre-Iowa caucus fundraiser, "most of the organizations targeted to receive the money have gotten less than half of that amount." Around that time, Trump also said he had contributed $1,000,000 of his personal funds. In late May, Trump revised his figures downward, saying that $5.6 million had been raised at the event and that he had contributed his $1,000,000 share only the previous week, after the media criticized him. He also provided a list of the beneficiaries of the $5.6 million.Foundation grants as political advertisements
Trump may have used Trump Foundation grants to advance his presidential campaign, in violation of rules barring charities from engaging in political activity. Trump distributed at least some of the funds publicly at "Donald Trump for President" political rallies, displaying large-size donation checks that included his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” or a link to a campaign website.Grants to the National Museum of Catholic Art and Library
In each of 1995 and 1999, the Trump Foundation granted $50,000 to the National Museum of Catholic Art and Library. A 2001 report by The Village Voice stated, after visiting the museum in East Harlem, that the facility had "next to no art" and no official connection to the Catholic church, despite having had a 10-year track record of soliciting large-scale donations for its collection. The Voice and, later, the The Washington Post, concluded that Trump may have directed the grants to the museum to curry favor with the museum's then chairman, Eddie Malloy, who was also head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. The Council had worked on behalf of one of the unions of workers who worked on Trump construction projects.Failure to make pledged 9/11 donations
An investigation by the New York City Comptroller's office in October 2016 showed that Trump and/or the Donald Trump Foundation may have failed to honor at least one pledge to charities established to provide relief for victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Trump had made a pledge of $10,000 to the Twin Towers Fund on the The Howard Stern Show in late September 2001. The Twin Towers Fund, later administered as part of the New York City Public and Private Initiative, was created by then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani "to benefit the families of firefighters and police officers who died in the attacks.
During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Giuliani announced that Trump had made unspecified "anonymous" donations after the Sep 11 attacks, although such donations have not been identified. Giuliani also said, in support of Trump's candidacy, "Every time New York City suffered a tragedy Donald Trump was there to help,.... He's not going to like my telling you this but he did it anonymously.”
The New York City Comptroller's office told the New York Daily News it had manually reviewed "approximately 1,500 pages of donor records of the Twin Towers Fund and the related entity NYC Public/Private Initiatives Inc., containing the names of more than 110,000 individuals and entities that were collected as part of the audits" through August 2012. According to the News, Comptroller Scott Stringer "found that Trump and hadn't donated a dime in the months after 9/11"; however, because the reviewed period only covered one year after the attacks, the Comptroller's office was "unable to conclude definitively" that Trump never gave to the fund after August 2002. According to its IRS Form 990 tax filings, the Trump Foundation made no grants to the Twin Towers Fund or to NYC Public/Private Initiatives, Inc. from 2002 through 2014, although Trump may have made personal donations after August 2002 that would not have shown up in these filings.
In 2016, after the convention, Trump's campaign suggested that the Trump Foundation made a grant to the American Red Cross after the attacks; however no record of this exists in the foundation's tax filings from 2001 through 2014. As with the Twin Towers Fund, if Trump instead had made a personal donation, it would not have shown up in the foundation's records.Using Trump Foundation money to settle Trump Organization legal disputes
Trump may have used foundation money to settle his personal or business legal disputes on at least two occasions.
In 2007, Trump used Trump Foundation funds to settle a 2006 legal dispute between the Town of Palm Beach, Florida, and Trump's Mar-a-Lago country club. The town said that the club's flagpole violated town height limit rules and levied a daily accruing fine against the club. The club's flagpole was 80 feet tall, 38 feet above limits imposed by the town. Palm Beach began fining Trump $1,250 per day for the violation. Trump countersued Palm Beach for $25 million on US constitutional grounds for restricting his 1st amendment rights of free speech and his 14th amendment rights of equal protection. The suit alleged that at least 20 other properties had violated the height restrictions but were not similarly fined. It also alleged that a shorter flagpole "would fail to appropriately express the magnitude of Donald J. Trump's…patriotism." Trump eventually reached a legal settlement with Palm Beach after, according to the Sun Sentinel, "secret, court-ordered negotiations." Settlement documents show that Trump, in return for discharging the club's obligations to Palm Beach, had agreed to personally donate $100,000 to Fischer House, a charity benefitting veterans and military families. However, Trump then made the grant using foundation money, not his own.
Trump's foundation paid $158,000 to the Martin B. Greenberg Foundation as a settlement of a lawsuit brought by Greenberg against the Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Greenberg alleged that he had rightfully won a $1 million prize for scoring a hole-in-one in a 2010 charity golf tournament at the club. But the club denied the award on technical grounds, arguing that the hole was shorter than the required 150 yards. Martin Greenberg sued and a settlement was reached at a significantly reduced amount. The Washington Post reported that "on the day that Trump and the other parties told the court that they had settled the case, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made its first and only grant to the Martin B. Greenberg Foundation, for $158,000." In September 2016, the Post reported that the grant was directly linked to the legal settlement, likely violating IRS self-dealing rules by using charitable funds to pay Trump's personal or business obligations. To raise the money needed to make the settlement, the Trump Foundation auctioned a prize of lifetime golf membership at Trump-owned golf courses, with the winning bid bringing a $157,000 donation to the Trump Foundation to the foundation to offset the payment to the Greenberg Foundation. The winner of the auction may have believed he was donating to Trump Foundation charitable causes.Donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
In 2013, the Trump Foundation donated $25,000 in support of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's election campaign while Bondi's office was reviewing fraud allegations against Trump University, a for-profit real estate program created by Donald Trump. Around that time Trump also hosted a fundraiser for Bondi at his Mar-a-Lago resort at a fee well below his normal market rate. Bondi's office later ended the investigation without bringing charges.
According to a Trump Foundation attorney, "the contribution was made in error due to a case of mistaken identity of organizations with the same name." Trump later personally reimbursed his foundation for the $25,000. The foundation paid a $2,500 fine for violating IRS rules against political contributions by charitable organizations. In 2016 New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated publicly that the Trump Foundation was the subject of an ongoing investigation by his office.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a not-for-profit watchdog group, filed a complaint with the IRS (see below). It also cast doubt on Trump's story after obtaining a letter from the Trump Foundation's attorney to the New York Attorney General's office. "We're past the point where a reasonable person could believe this is just a never-ending series of once in a lifetime errors," said CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz. "This may not be anything nefarious, but if it isn't, that would mean that the Trump operation is completely inept when it comes to running the Trump Foundation."
On October 5, 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported details of how Trump had on several other occasions since as early as the 1980s made campaign donations to various US state attorneys general while they had been reviewing cases involving the Trump Organization or Trump personally, although the Bondi case is the only one it cited as having involved Trump Foundation money.Foundation grants allegedly made for political purposes
Trump paid $100,000 of Trump Foundation funds in 2012 to Reverend Franklin Graham's Billy Graham Evangelical Association. NBC News has called Graham "an early ally" of Trump. "The more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, 'You know, maybe the guy's right,'" Graham had told ABC News in 2011. In October 2016 Graham revealed to the Charlotte Observer that, in 2012, he had instructed Trump to make the $100,000 donation and that the money was used to pay for full page ads urging voters to support candidates in the 2012 presidential election who supported "biblical values". The Observer has suggested the timing and tone of the ads indicate they were placed in support of Mitt Romney's campaign.
Graham also heads Boone, North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief agency that received $25,000 from the Trump Foundation in 2012. Graham credits then-Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren for soliciting the $25,000 donation from Trump. Van Susteren and her TV crew had accompanied Graham on Samaritan's Purse trips to Haiti and North Korea. The Charlotte Observer quoted Graham saying " was on her show, and said, ‘I was just in Haiti and Samaritan’s Purse is doing this down there, and Donald, you need to help.’ He sent a check out." In 2016, several media outlets alleged that Van Susteren had been producing overtly pro-Trump reports on her Fox News show On the Record.
In 2014 the Trump Foundation made a $100,000 grant to the Citizens United Foundation, a charitable foundation closely related to David Bossie's conservative group, Citizens United. At the time Citizens United was engaged in a lawsuit against New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office was pursuing a civil lawsuit against Trump University. It was the largest single grant made by the Trump Foundation that year. Schneiderman's office called the grant part of a "vendetta" by Trump, while Citizens United rejected any connection between the grant and its own lawsuit against Schneiderman. The Trump Foundation's 2014 tax filing misidentified Citizens United as a public charity (501(c)(3)) when it is in fact a social welfare organization (501(c)(4)).
The Trump Foundation donated a total of $40,000 from 2011 through 2013 to the Drumthwacket Foundation, a charitable organization formed to pay for renovation and historical preservation of the New Jersey governor's mansion of the same name. In 2011, Trump was seeking to acquire permits to build a personal cemetery on the fairway at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey and may have needed political help in obtaining approval for the permit.
Trump directed $100,000 of Trump Foundation money toward the National September 11 Memorial Museum days before the 2016 New York State Republican presidential primary, where he was on the ballot, mischaracterizing the foundation grant as a personal donation.
In May 2015, the Trump Foundation granted $10,000 to Project Veritas, a charity run by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe. In October 2016, O'Keefe released video which purportedly reveals how Democrats incited violence at Trump rallies. During the third 2016 presidential debate, Trump claimed that new videos produced by O'Keefe and released that week proved that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had "hired people" and "paid them $1,500" to "be violent, cause fights, do bad things" at Trump rallies. A Democratic National Committee spokesman noted Trump's donation after Project Veritas released another video on the 2016 presidential election. A Project Veritas spokesman responded by saying, "We have a multi-million dollar budget and the cost of this video series alone is way up there. The donation Trump provided didn't impact our actions one way or the other."
Trump may have strategically directed money from the Trump Foundation to support his presidential campaign. In one case, the grants were used specifically to pay for newspaper ads. In October 2016 RealClearPolitics reported that Trump directed significant amounts of foundation money to conservative organizations, possibly in return for political support and access. The news organization found that, from 2011 through 2014, Trump had "harnessed his eponymous foundation to send at least $286,000 to influential conservative or policy groups.... In many cases, this flow of money corresponded to prime speaking slots or endorsements that aided Trump as he sought to recast himself as a plausible Republican candidate for president." At least two of the groups are based in Republican-leaning early presidential primary states. In addition to Citizens United (above), groups include Iowa's The Family Leader, the South Carolina Palmetto Family Council, the American Conservative Union, and the American Spectator Foundation. Trump's granting of foundation money to these groups could have violated the law, if it was in return for his personal right to speak or gain access to networking events.
In 1989, the Trump Foundation paid more than half of a "voluntary assessment" imposed on the Plaza Hotel by the Central Park Conservancy. The hotel was owned by the Trump Organization at the time and the assessment was for the renovation of the severely dilapidated Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza, which directly faced the hotel. Toward the $500,000 assessment, the foundation granted $264,631 to the Conservancy while the Trump Organization paid between $100,000 and $250,000. The grant to the Conservancy was the largest single grant made by the Trump Foundation from inception through at least 2015.Purchasing goods and services for personal or business benefit with foundation money
On two occasions, Trump used the Foundation's money to purchase artists' portraits of himself.
In 2012, Trump bid $12,000 at a charity auction, hosted at his Mar-a-lago club, to purchase an NFL football helmet autographed by Tim Tebow and a Tebow football jersey. Trump was given credit for generosity in newspaper accounts. However, the purchase was made with $12,000 of foundation money, not his own. The current whereabouts of the helmet and jersey are unknown. Tax law experts say if Trump kept them, the purchase might have violated the self-dealing rule, which bans private foundations from "the furnishing of goods" to their own officers.
In 2008 Trump used $107,000 of Trump Foundation funds to purchase a luxury trip to Paris, including a meeting with actress Salma Hayek, at a charity auction for the Gucci Foundation.
In 2013 the Trump Foundation made a $5,000 grant to the non-profit D.C. Preservation League. According to The Washington Post, the nonprofit's support was helpful to the Trump Organization in obtaining the rights to convert Washington, D.C.'s historic Old Post Office Pavilion into the Trump International Hotel. In acknowledgment of the donation, the Trump Foundation received ads in the event programs; the ads promoted Trump's hotels rather than the foundation, in possible violation of IRS self-dealing rules.
The Palm Beach Post has suggested that Trump benefited personally when the Trump Foundation made grants totaling $20,000 during 2012 through 2014 in return for band and choir performances held at his resorts.Diverting business or personal income earned to the foundation as donations
Trump may have directed income owed to him personally to be sent to the foundation instead, in possible violation of tax rules. The Washington Post reported in September 2016 that Donald Trump had directed that $2.3 million owed to him and his organization by various people and organizations should be paid instead to his foundation as donations, possibly evading personal income taxes. The Post found old Associated Press coverage showing that Trump may have started directing income to the Trump Foundation as early as 1989. IRS rules prohibit individuals from diverting taxable income owed to them toward charities if they benefit directly from those charities, unless the individual declares the income on his personal tax forms. Since Trump had yet to release his personal income taxes at that time, the Post was unable to confirm if the income was declared for any of the donations received.
The Trump Foundation received at least $1.9 million from ticket broker Richard Ebbers. Richard Ebers had bought goods and services, including tickets, from "Trump or his businesses"; he was allegedly instructed to make payment for them to the Trump Foundation in the form of charitable contributions instead of as income for the Trump organization.
The Trump Foundation received a total of $5,000,000 in donations from World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon and his wife Linda McMahon from 2007 to 2009. Trump has appeared twice in WrestleMania events, in 2007 and again in 2009. The WWE has made two donations to the foundation, of $4 million in 2007 and another $1 million in 2009. The WWE later told The Huffington Post that “during this period of time, WWE paid Donald Trump appearance fees separately,” and “separately, Vince and Linda McMahon made personal donations to Donald Trump’s foundation.”
In 2007, the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation hosted a fundraiser to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center in Phoenix, Arizona. According to a Celebrity Fight Night Foundation spokesperson, in return for Trump's appearance and his offering a New York-based dinner with himself at auction, Trump stipulated that the Parkinson’s charity share the total auction proceeds with the Trump Foundation. The Trump Foundation subsequently received $150,000 of auction proceeds that would otherwise have gone to the center benefitting Parkinson's Disease research.
Other donations made to the Trump Foundation that may have been in return for Trump's personal work include:
Trump has been accused of directing foundation money toward several charities that in turn paid the Trump Organization to host charity events at Trump-owned hotels and golf clubs. High-profile charity events at Mar-a-Lago cost as much as $300,000.
The Washington Post and Fox News reported that Trump has repeatedly claimed in public, beginning in 2015, to have made over "$102 million" in charitable donations "in the past five years". The Trump Organization provided journalists with a 93-page list of the donations. None of the cash donations were confirmed to come from Trump himself; many were actually grants from the Trump Foundation, which no longer contained any of Trump's own money.
For example, Trump took personal credit and was honored for a Trump Foundation grant to the Palm Beach Police Foundation that was actually from an outside source (see above). He had pledged the money personally, and then the Trump Foundation solicited the $150,000 earmarked for the police foundation from an unrelated philanthropic organization, the Charles Evans Foundation. The Trump Foundation then paid the $150,000 to the Palm Beach charity. The police then honored Trump personally with its annual Palm Tree Award at Trump's Mar-a-Lago hotel at its annual fundraiser. The Washington Post wrote that "Trump had effectively turned the Evans Foundation's gifts into his own gifts, without adding any money of his own."
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has honored Trump variously as "Grand Benefactor" and "Grand Honorary Chair" at its annual fundraisers held at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump may have also earned more money on the event fees it received from the institute than the Trump Foundation paid to the institute in grants. Trump has directed at least $300,000 of grants of the Trump Foundation money to Dana-Farber since 2010.
Trump received highly visible praise for his personal generosity on his prime-time television show The Apprentice on multiple occasions. Trump had frequently offered to make generous donations to his contestants' charities, but records show that he ultimately either directed the Trump Foundation to make a grant, or instead had the show's network, NBC Universal, make the donation instead. Examples include:
Other alleged examples include:
The Trump Foundation is responsible by law for ensuring that any grant it makes to another private foundation is used strictly for charitable purposes. To fulfill this IRS "expenditure responsibility" the foundation is required to attach "full and detailed" reports describing the use of the grant money to its IRS 990 tax return for each year a grant to a private foundation is made. Trump Foundation tax returns show that it failed to do this for all of the 20 grants it made to private foundations during the period of 2005 through 2014. Such grants in this period, which total at least $488,500, could be subject to significant fines and penalties.Legal actions and complaints
In September and October 2016 there were several legal actions and complaints filed against the Trump Foundation. Former head of the Internal Revenue Service's Office of Exempt Organizations Division Marc Owens told the Washington Post regarding the various allegations against the foundation: "This is so bizarre, this laundry list of issues.... It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this, and I’ve been doing this for 25 years in the IRS, and 40 years total." When interviewed for the Post's article, Trump spokesperson Boris Epshtein said that Trump did not knowingly violate any tax laws.New York State Attorney General
On September 13, 2016 New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office was investigating the foundation "to make sure it's complying with the laws governing charities in New York." The office had previously filed charges—at that time awaiting trial—against the Trump Organization's Trump University. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, responded to the announcement by labeling Schneiderman a "partisan hack". Schneiderman has endorsed Hillary Clinton and was identified as a member of her "New York leadership council" in October 2015.
On September 30 the Attorney General's office issued a "Notice of Violation" to the Trump Foundation, ordering it to immediately stop all fundraising in New York and to file its registration and all required past audits within 15 days, or risk being "deemed to be a continuing fraud on the people of the State of New York". Under the law, the foundation may eventually be required to return all donations it had solicited since inception. The notice said the foundation has not been in compliance with New York law because it had failed to re-register in New York State as a "7A level charitable organization", as required for charities that solicit $25,000 or more a year from outside donors. The Donald J. Trump Foundation had been registered in New York under the state's Estates, Powers and Trusts Law with a designation intended for self-funded private foundations.
On October 17 a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office confirmed that the Trump Foundation had agreed to cease solicitation of donations in New York State. The Trump Foundation was at the time granted an extension of time for filing its financial paperwork, including all past audits. The Attorney General's office said the Trump Foundation also agreed to cooperate with their ongoing investigation. The Attorney General's press secretary stated that Trump could not legally dissolve his foundation until the investigation is finished.Letter from the House Judiciary Committee to the US Attorney General
Also on September 13, 2016, all fifteen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation of Trump in connection with his foundation’s $25,000 grant to Pam Bondi's campaign. The letter specifically cited possible violations of two anti-bribery laws.Complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service
Also on September 13, 2016, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a left-leaning watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service citing evidence that they argued would compel the agency to seek back taxes and penalties and revoke the foundation's tax-free status.Admission of self-dealing
In filing its 2015 IRS Form 990 (filed in 2016 while under investigation by the New York State Attorney General's office), the foundation appears to admit that it had, in previous years, engaged in self-dealing and illegal transfers of funds to "disqualified persons". This admission contradicts its filings for previous years, where there is no admission of the same violations.Closure of the Trump Foundation
In late December 2016, one month before his inauguration, Trump announced that he would dissolve the Trump Foundation to avoid “even the appearance of any conflict with role as President”. However, a spokesperson from the New York State Attorney General's office told the New York Times that the foundation "cannot legally dissolve" until its current investigation is completed.See also