Democrats hound Trump over closure of foundation

Democrats are hounding President-elect Donald Trump over his decision to dissolve his charitable foundation, blasting the group as a “slush fund” and demanding he take additional steps to avoid conflicts of interest.

The incoming president announced Saturday that he’s directed his counsel to complete the closure.

Trump said in a statement: “I am very proud of the money that has been raised for many organizations in need, and I am also very proud of the fact that the Foundation has operated at essentially no cost for decades, with 100% of the money going to charity, but because I will be devoting so much time and energy to the Presidency and solving the many problems facing our country and the world, I don’t want to allow good work to be associated with a possible conflict of interest.”

But the Democratic National Committee signaled the decision wasn’t good enough for them.

Deputy Communications Director Eric Walker, in a statement, called the announcement a “wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving.”

During the presidential campaign, Democrats sought to draw attention to controversies surrounding Trump’s foundation as Republicans hammered Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over her family’s foundation – and its alleged conflicts while she was secretary of state.

Walker renewed those allegations in the wake of Trump’s announcement, saying his charity “has a pitiful record of service, and instead has served as a slush fund for Trump to bribe elected officials, attack his political enemies and buy portraits of himself.”

The statement also took a jab at the president-elect over his controversial business holdings: "Shuttering a charity is no substitute for divesting from his for-profit business and putting the assets in a blind trust -- the only way to guarantee separation between the Trump administration and the Trump business."

Walker further questioned how the shut-down would “accommodate the investigation into the foundation.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating the foundation following media reports that foundation spending went to benefit Trump's campaign. A spokeswoman says the foundation cannot close until the investigation is complete.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press in September showed Schneiderman's scrutiny of The Donald J. Trump Foundation dated back to at least June, when his office formally questioned the donation made by the charity to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Bondi personally solicited the money during a 2013 phone call that came after her office received complaints from former students claiming they were scammed by Trump University.

The Trump Foundation check arrived just days after Bondi's office told a newspaper it was reviewing a lawsuit against Trump University filed by Schneiderman. Bondi's office never sued Trump, though she denies his donation played any role in that decision.

Trump later paid a $2,500 fine over the check from his foundation because it violated federal law barring charities from making political contributions.

A 2015 tax return posted on the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar shows the Donald J. Trump Foundation acknowledged that it used money or assets in violation of IRS regulations -- not only during 2015, but in prior years.

Those regulations prohibit self-dealing by the charity. That's broadly defined as using its money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.

The tax filing doesn't provide details on the violations. Whether Trump benefited from the foundation's spending has been the subject of the Schneiderman probe.

In his statement on Saturday, Trump said his foundation has “done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups, including supporting veterans, law enforcement officers and children. However, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways.”

Trump's announcement came a day after the president-elect took to Twitter to declare it a "ridiculous shame" that his son Eric will have to stop soliciting funds for his charitable foundation, the Eric Trump Foundation, because of a conflict of interest.

"My wonderful son, Eric, will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency," Trump tweeted. "He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them, and now must stop. Wrong answer!"

Trump was highly critical during the campaign of the Clinton Foundation. At the final presidential debate, he challenged Clinton to "give back the money" that came from donors in countries that fail to respect various human rights.

More than half the people outside the government who met with Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation. The proportion indicated possible ethics challenges had she been elected president.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.