NY Attorney General’s ‘Inquiry’ into Trump Foundation Presents Ethics Problem
New York Eric Schneiderman seems like he’s a smart guy and a real justice seeker. He went to Harvard Law School, and spent years fighting for the little guy as a public interest lawyer. But, his move to open “an inquiry” into the Trump Foundation reeks of nothing more than partisan politics. That’s not to say there aren’t some legitimate concerns about the Trump Foundation. The timing surrounding the Trump Foundation’s donation to Florida AG Pam Bondi, and her office’s decision not to go after Trump University is a bit suspicious. However, there is no reason that Mr. Schneiderman’s pursuit of justice couldn’t wait until after the presidential election. Nothing would change legally if he had made this wise decision. Instead, Schneiderman told CNN on Tuesday that “we have been concerned that the Trump Foundation may have engaged in some impropriety.
Here is the problem. As you may know, Schneiderman, a Democrat, is not exactly removed from politics. He has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. What’s more, he sits on Clinton’s New York ‘Leadership Council’ and according to FEC records has donated $2,700 personally to her campaign. According to a recent article, Clinton leadership members like Schneiderman are charged with “amplifying the campaign’s national voice to New York families aiding the campaign with rapid response, organization building, grassroots organizing events, recruiting volunteer leaders, and identifying leaders for Get Out The Vote activities.”
“Schneiderman should have waited until November 9. Whatever may be his reasons for opening the investigation now, less than eight weeks before the election, to the public his motives will appear highly partisan,” Professor Stephen Gillers, an ethics professor with the NYU School of Law told LawNewz.com. “That inference is strong. There is no urgency. Schneiderman could have waited until November 9 without compromising the investigation. To the public it will appear that Schneiderman acted not in the interest of his client, the State, but for whatever influence his announcement might have on the election outcome.”
Donald Trump has already seized on this perceived conflict of interest to dismiss the probe as a political vendetta. Trump’s campaign spokesperson said in response that Schneiderman is ‘a partisan hack who has turned a blind eye to the Clinton Foundation for years and has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.” In addition to the Trump Foundation, Schneiderman’s office filed a $40 million lawsuit against Trump University for alleged illegal business practices. However, that lawsuit was filed in 2013 well before Trump declared he’d run for President. What’s more the actual probe began in 2005, 6 years before Schneiderman took office.
A perceived conflict of interest — or even as Mr. Gillers puts it an “inference” can taint the integrity of an investigation. Mark Ober, a state attorney in Tampa, was well aware of that issue. According to the Orlando Sentinel, he requested the Governor appoint another state attorney to look into a complaint against Pam Bondi’s acceptance of a donation from Donald Trump. Ober said he worked with Bondi for nearly two decades, and that “she was a close personal friend.” He said that he couldn’t move forward with the matter without raising serious questions of a conflict of interest.
Wise move, Mr. Ober. Mr. Schneiderman should take a cue from Florida and do the same, or, at the very least, wait until November 9th.