New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood nailed it Tuesday when she explained the significance of President Donald Trump agreeing to dissolve his namesake foundation amid a state probe into allegations that he used the charity for his own benefit.
"This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone," Underwood said.
Trump had no choice but to succumb to Underwood, who said her probe uncovered "a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation," including coordinating unlawfully with his campaign and repeated instances of willful self-dealing.
Underwood said the findings, which followed groundbreaking reporting in The Washington Post, make clear that the foundation served "as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's business and political interests." Its funds, most of which were donated by others, were used to:
Pay legal settlements for Trump's businesses — like a $158,000 payment to a man who made a hole-in-one worth $1 million at a charity tournament at a Trump National Golf Club.
Purchase art — like a $10,000 portrait of Trump that later was hung at one of his golf clubs.
Make political donations — like a $25,000 payment to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's campaign.
Help Trump's 2016 campaign — like when $2 million raised for veterans at an Iowa fundraiser was put in his foundation with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski deciding how and to whom the money would be disbursed.
Underwood is right to insist that the remaining $1.75 million in the foundation's coffers be distributed to legitimate charities subject to approval by her office and a state judge.
Trump has called the investigation "ridiculous" and a partisan attack. But it's no surprise he caved. It's what he does — deny wrongdoing, attack the accuser, promise not to settle, then do just that as inconvenient facts mount. See, for example, lawsuits filed by New York's attorney general and others against Trump University, a case Trump derided and then settled for $25 million.
The unexpected White House announcement Tuesday of a needed ban on rifle bump stocks won't steal the headlines from Underwood's lawsuit or make it go away. Nor will dissolving the foundation. That's significant. The violations of state and federal law Underwood has described are serious and the perpetrators identified in her lawsuit — Trump and children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka as foundation directors — must be held accountable as the legal action continues.
That's the only way Trump and his family will understand that the rule of law applies to them as well.
— Newsday, Long Island
It was somewhat curious when Vladimir Putin came out, sort of, in defense of Russian rappers whose concerts have been canceled in cities across Russia in recent weeks. Curious, because Mr. Putin's image in the West is not of someone who would be sympathetic to angry, obscene, uncensored rap viewed by tens of millions of youths and despised by parents and local authorities.
Yet when the canceled concerts were raised at a meeting of his Council for Culture and Art, Mr. Putin — who has himself borrowed on occasion from Russia's rich lexicon of deletable expletives — argued that obscenity was part of the culture, and that, in any case, it would be counterproductive to try to block a form of poetry and music that was all over the internet.
The "sort of" interjected above was from the president's argument that of the three pillars on which, he said, rap rests — sex, drugs and protest — drugs are indeed worrisome. "That is a path to degrading the nation," he declared. "If it is impossible to stop, then we need to lead, and in an appropriate way, direct."
Mr. Putin did not elaborate on what forms that might take, which is unfortunate, since it would be interesting to hear some authoritarian rap cooked up in the Kremlin. Actually, there is existing material he could use — one macho hit by the rapper Slava KPSS ("Glory to the CPSU," the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) has as its refrain "Vladimir Putin."
Though older generations everywhere get worked up over radical developments in art, music and cultural forms — recall how American parents reacted to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, hippies and beat poets — the arts have a powerful history as a political force in Russia and the Soviet Union.
Artists, writers and musicians outside the official culture canons were a powerful opposition to the Communist Party, and the less official the more potent. Mr. Putin has to be aware of the power, for example, of the folk singer Vladimir Vysotsky, who became an underground icon in the 1970s with his songs about the hard plight of ordinary people. And Leningrad, where he grew up, was home to some of the most popular Russian rock bands that arose in the wake of Beatlemania.
But it is also a venerable Russian tradition for the state to try to shape and control culture. Lenin taught that every artist has the right to be free, followed by the usual Soviet qualification. "However, we are Communists and we must not stand with folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases," Lenin wrote. "We must systemically guide this process and form its result."
Mr. Putin's "lead and direct" suggested that authoritarian delusions die hard. It didn't work then, and it would be far more futile in the age of the internet and social media. And as Russia's rappers have argued, the country's grave drug problem is not their doing, and censoring it out of their work won't solve it.
— The New York Times