The Donald J. Trump Foundation, once billed as the charitable arm of the president’s financial empire, agreed to dissolve on Tuesday and give away all its remaining assets under court supervision as part of an ongoing investigation and lawsuit by the New York attorney general.
The foundation was accused by the attorney general, Barbara Underwood, of “functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” and of engaging in “a shocking pattern of illegality” that included unlawfully coordinating with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In addition to shuttering the charity, her office has pursued a lawsuit that could bar President Trump and his three oldest children from the boards of other New York charities, as well as force the payment of millions in restitution and penalties.
“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” Ms. Underwood said in announcing the agreement.
The closure of the foundation is a milestone in what has been a two-year investigation after the nonprofit’s management and giving patterns emerged as a flash point in the 2016 campaign. What assets remain after penalties will be directed to charities that must be approved by the attorney general’s office, and the process will be subject to judicial supervision.
Ms. Underwood and a lawyer for the Trump foundation signed the stipulation agreeing to the dissolution.
“We’ll continue to move our suit forward,” Ms. Underwood said, “to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”
Nonprofit foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities. But the attorney general’s office has charged that the Trump Foundation was used to win political favor, accusing the foundation of virtually becoming an arm of the Trump campaign, with its campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, directing the foundation to make disbursements in Iowa only days before the state held its presidential nominating caucuses.
“Is there any way we can make some disbursements [from the proceeds of the fund-raiser] this week while in Iowa? Specifically on Saturday,” Mr. Lewandowski wrote to the foundation’s treasurer in an email disclosed in the lawsuit.
Mr. Trump was required to sign annual filings with the Internal Revenue Service in which he attested that the foundation did not engage in political activity.
The president had said after the 2016 election that to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, he would dissolve the foundation. But the attorney general’s office blocked him from doing so amid concerns about the handling of the foundation’s documents and assets.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, refused to comment on the dissolution of the Trump Foundation, saying, “That’s something that I would refer you to the Trump Organization.”
Mr. Trump has long claimed that all the foundation’s money went to “wonderful charities” that had legitimate purposes. Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer for the foundation, accused Ms. Underwood of making a “misleading statement” on Tuesday in “a further attempt to politicize this matter.”
“The foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election,” he said. “Unfortunately, the N.Y.A.G. sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need of nearly $1.7 million.”
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Ms. Underwood, said the Trump foundation had previously wanted to dissolve without any oversight. “That was unacceptable,” she said.
The investigation of the foundation was begun by the former attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who was an antagonist of Mr. Trump before stepping down following revelations of sexual misconduct this year.
Next month, the ongoing case will fall to the incoming attorney general, Letitia James, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump who said recently that she would “use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family.”
Ms. Underwood’s office sued the Trump Foundation in June, charging it with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”
[Want to know more about the Trump Foundation? Read this explainer.]
Charities are barred from advancing the self-interests of its executives over the charity’s mission, but the attorney general’s office said in a court filing this year that the foundation had entered into a number of “prohibited self-dealing transactions that directly benefited Mr. Trump or entities that he controlled.”
The Trump Foundation, for instance, purchased a $10,000 portrait of Mr. Trump that was displayed at one of his golf clubs. The existence of the portrait, along with other examples of questionable spending cited in the lawsuit, was first reported by The Washington Post.
One transaction was revealed by a note in Mr. Trump’s handwriting that said $100,000 of Trump Foundation money should be directed to another charity to settle a legal dispute between the Town of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Mr. Trump was once a major donor to his own foundation. But in the six years before his presidential run, from 2009 to 2014, Mr. Trump stopped giving his own money, relying instead solely on outside donations.
The attorney general’s office is seeking for the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution, which is the amount raised for the foundation at an Iowa fund-raiser in 2016 that Mr. Trump held on the day that he avoided attending a debate with his Republican rivals. The foundation reported $1.7 million in assets in 2017 to the I.R.S.
Last month, a New York state judge ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump, as president, and that the statute of limitations had passed on some of the issues.
“I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Justice Saliann Scarpulla wrote in a 27-page ruling.
Mr. Futerfas had said in a statement then that “all of the money raised by the Foundation went to charitable causes” and that “we remain confident in the ultimate outcome of these proceedings.”
“I won’t settle this case!” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter in June, accusing “the sleazy New York Democrats” of targeting him.
The foundation lawsuit follows years of scrutiny of President Trump’s charitable activities and adds to his extensive legal challenges, amid a continuing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The Trump Foundation is hardly the first charity dissolved by the state — Mr. Schneiderman previously shut down a sham breast cancer charity, for example — but it is the first involving a sitting president of the United States.
Also, if the attorney general’s office is successful in barring Mr. Trump from serving on foundation boards for a decade, it would put him in the unusual position of not being able to serve on the board of his own post-presidential foundation, should it be set up in New York.
TESLA’S PRICE CUT AND MORE CAR NEWS FROM THIS WEEK
HAPPY NEW YEAR, and welcome back. 2019 is young, and we’ve already got a transportation bombshell on our hands: New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced he wants to cancel a planned subway line shutdown in the country’s largest public transit system. He says a panel of experts found a smarter way to fix tunnels damaged by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy—and according to engineers we spoke to, Cuomo might be right. But what happens now? Will the city stick with its plans, formed over the course of three years, to revamp bike and bus lanes and pedestrian spaces? Transportation advocates hope so.
Meanwhile, we’re still a little stuck on 2018, which was filled with exciting advances for Tesla, scooter-share, and even self-driving cars (sometimes). Read about the happenings, before it all fades away. It’s been a few weeks. Let’s get you caught up.
New TLC commissioner should have economic smarts: Advocates
Professional driver advocates say the city should be looking for a new Taxi & Limousine commissioner with a background in economics and a focus on policy.
“There’s a serious economic crisis in this industry, and [the next chairperson] needs to be interested in policy, not just politics, and care for the workers at the end of the day,” said Bhiaravi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 20,000 of the city’s professional drivers. “Given the level of crisis that drivers have been under, you need a chairperson who is going to be bold and really willing to put even their own kind of career interests second to the plight of the drivers.”
The head of the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, Meera Joshi, will step down from her post in March, the de Blasio administration announced over the weekend.
Joshi, whose policy positions clashed with those of the mayor’s, has headed the department since 2014 and oversaw a tumultuous period for the driving industry, as Uber and Lyft flooded the market and upended long-held practices of the ride-hailing industry.
“Thanks to a skilled and principled TLC staff, a Commission dedicated to doing the right thing and engaged industry members and advocates, through public debate and data, we increased accountability, safety, access, modernized taxi regulation, protected drivers and increased consumer protections. I am deeply grateful to the TLC community that made this possible,” said Commissioner Joshi in a statement.
Joshi oversaw the department as New York became the first major city to temporarily cap the number of e-hail vehicles on the road, and more recently spearheaded the nation’s first minimum wage for e-hail drivers. She also succeeded where other cities failed in acquiring more pickup and drop-off data from e-hail companies.
She also grappled, however, with a tragic series of driver suicides as e-hails multiplied on the streets of the city, decreasing the value of taxi medallions and rattling the economics of the industry.
Desai did praise Joshi for her “heart” as well as her “institutional knowledge” and “vision.”
De Blasio undercut Joshi several times this past year. In July, as Joshi’s agency issued a report that became the foundation for setting the minimum wage for e-hail drivers, de Blasio’s office failed to endorse the idea, with the mayor’s press secretary calling it “very premature.”
De Blasio stepped on Joshi’s toes more recently as the state looked to administer a congestion surcharge on taxi and e-hail trips in a large swath of Manhattan. After Joshi said the policy would be “devastating” for taxi drivers, de Blasio endorsed the proposal as a way to decrease traffic volumes. A judge blocked that policy from taking effect last month after cabdrivers filed suit.
In a statement announcing the news, de Blasio hailed his commissioner, saying she will be leaving an “unparalleled legacy.”
“In this unprecedented period of growth, Meera has brought about equally unprecedented and vital change that will serve as a model for cities throughout the nation and the world,” de Blasio said. “Under her leadership, New Yorkers who use wheelchairs can get service, passengers are assured that every driver and vehicle is safe, our city has detailed records of the one million daily trips, and New York City is the only place where app drivers have pay protection.”
Sony’s Chief Plans to Make Entertainment Assets a Priority
What will happen to Sony Pictures?
That has been a question in Hollywood since Kenichiro Yoshida took over as Sony Corporation’s chief executive in April. Unlike his two predecessors, Mr. Yoshida, a number-cruncher based in Japan and known for jettisoning underperforming businesses, seemed to have little affinity for the company’s also-ran movie and television division, which is best known as the home of Spider-Man and “Seinfeld.”
Surely this would be the moment for Sony to get rid of the midsize studio — especially since Rupert Murdoch had just decided to sell his bigger 20th Century Fox to Disney, having concluded it did not have the scale needed to compete with moviedom insurgents like Netflix, Apple and Amazon.
Surprise. When Mr. Yoshida takes the stage on Monday at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, he plans to use the high-profile platform to showcase Sony movies, television shows and music. He plans to telegraph that not only will his Sony not exit any of these businesses, it will make them a priority as his predecessors have not. In particular, Mr. Yoshida wants to make better use of the company’s online PlayStation Network as a way to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, now has more than 80 million monthly active users.
“I want to convey the message that Sony is a creative entertainment company,” Mr. Yoshida said by phone from Tokyo before leaving for Nevada. That description amounts to a significant shift. Sony has long been seen as a consumer electronics superpower first and a Hollywood entity second.
He added that Sony’s three separately run entertainment businesses — music, gaming and motion pictures — have been told from on high that it is time to collaborate more consistently. In the past, analysts say, PlayStation Network managers have been hesitant to team up with their movie and music counterparts, worrying that the service’s core gamers would balk if they felt that Sony was pushing, say, family films at them.
Mr. Yoshida seemed less concerned. He called PlayStation Network “a very strong entertainment platform for all of Sony — very suitable for video and music content.”
Mr. Yoshida said he was asking for collaboration at a time when all the pertinent divisions have new leaders. Tony Vinciquerra became chief executive of Sony Pictures in June 2017. John Kodera took over gaming slightly more than a year ago. In recent months, Rob Stringer and Jon Platt were named as Sony’s top executives in music recording and publishing. All report to Mr. Yoshida; he said he had no plans to consolidate the entertainment businesses under a single executive.
“Entertainment is in Sony’s DNA,” Mr. Yoshida said. “We’ve now been in the music business for 50 years, the motion picture business for 30 years and the game business for over 25 years.” For its last fiscal year, the three units made up 47 percent of Sony’s operating profit, which totaled $6.7 billion, the highest in the conglomerate’s 72-year history.
Positioning Sony as an entertainment company represents a “directional change” and fits with other public comments Mr. Yoshida has made since he took over nine months ago, said Masaru Sugiyama, a Goldman Sachs analyst. “It has felt as if entertainment is more integrated with the rest of Sony within Yoshida-san’s mind,” Mr. Sugiyama said.
Even so, Sony is in no way leaning away from its portfolio of technology and consumer products.
At CES, as the Las Vegas trade show is known, Sony is expected to showcase image sensors for cars, new audio products, ultra-ultra high-definition televisions and robotics. Thomas E. Rothman, Sony’s movie chief, will take the stage after Mr. Yoshida to talk up the company’s turnaround in film, bringing along Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, producers of the studio’s recent “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” But Mr. Rothman’s remarks will be peppered with references to how Sony cameras have helped the studio — its tech breakthroughs bolstering its creative endeavors.
Sony’s entertainment empire has its share of challenges, of course.
After buying out partners, Sony has outright control of the world’s largest catalog of music publishing assets. But the recording unit had a soft 2018 in the hit department.
Apple has been poaching Sony television and film executives to work on its coming streaming service. And major Sony-made television shows like “Better Call Saul” and “The Blacklist” are aging. Efforts to find replacements have mostly fizzled, in part because the highest-paying TV networks are ordering more shows from in-house suppliers.
As a whole, however, Sony’s entertainment businesses are stronger than they have been in memory — in particular the film division, which suffered a devastating cyberattack in 2014. Mr. Rothman and Mr. Vinciquerra have turned movies into an unexpected engine by cutting costs and focusing more intently on all-audience “tent pole” fantasies like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which took in $962 million worldwide in 2017. To dropped jaws in Hollywood, “Venom” generated $856 million in ticket sales late last year.
Sony has a parade of big-budget sequels on the way — “Men in Black: International” arrives in June — and the studio is aggressively mining the rights it holds to Marvel characters in the Spider-Man comics family. To that end, movies based on Morbius, Black Cat and Silver Sable are in the works; the Sinister Six could be Sony’s answer to “The Avengers.” Sony is also considering making animated television shows based on characters introduced in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which has collected $276 million at the box office.
Now that Fox has been sold, only Disney and Sony have rights to make Marvel-related film and television content.
And Marvel characters are popular with the PlayStation Network crowd. One reason that Mr. Yoshida is pushing for more collaboration: Marvel’s Spider-Man, a $60 game, set a record for Sony in September by selling 3.3 million copies in its first three days of release.
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