Florida A.G. Who Killed Trump U Probe Starts Cushy Gig on Key Presidential Commission
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will formally join the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis this week, months after the president appointed her. Bondi remains Florida’s attorney general. She joins the commission just in time for its scheduled October 1st publication of its final report.
The announcement that Bondi was named to the commission came in March, and the news that she would take her seat came last week serves as a reminder to observers that her relationship with the president is either an example of political incompetence on both sides or an example of this president’s pay-for-play approach to all of his political and business relationships.
Bondi’s appointment to the opioid crisis commission may not be the direct evidence of a political bribe, but it is one more piece of a story that looks enough like a bribe to warrant an outside investigation.
In April 2017, a Florida ethics commission cleared Bondi behind closed doors of violations of state law when she solicited a donation for her 2014 re-election campaign from Donald Trump in 2013. Bondi was found to have committed no crime when she or her campaign requested the donation in August 2013.
This is where clarity ends.
Trump U and Pam Bondi
On September 13, 2013, Bondi’s attorney general’s office told the Orlando Sentinel that it would investigate “Trump University,” a seminar series that operated with the promise that the famous business leader would teach his students how to become rich. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the school a “bait-and-switch scheme,” and 3,700 former students filed claims in March in the President’s $25 million settlement agreement.
Three days after the Sentinel published Bondi’s promise to investigate the university, Donald Trump’s charitable foundation cut a check for $25,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign. As a charity, the foundation can not legally support election campaigns, so it paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS in 2016 for its Bondi campaign donation. The foundation claimed the mistake was a “clerical error,” an example of innocent incompetence.
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Less than one month later, on October 15, 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office announced that it would not investigate the business school for fraud. Many Floridians were eligible to file claims in the $25 million settlement and many more might have known about their eligibility had Attorney General Bondi joined the investigation.
In March 2014, Trump rented out his Mar-a-Lago resort to Bondi’s re-election campaign for less than the resort charges customers. Bondi announced her support of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in March 2016, one day before her state’s Republican primary, even though a fellow Floridian, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, was still in the campaign.
Both the president and Bondi deny that there was any relationship between his donation and her office’s decision one month later to reverse course on its plan to investigate his “Trump University.” Bondi’s office, her campaign, and her political future all depend on her possessing an unsullied reputation, so her office admitted last year for the sake of her clean hands that she had in fact solicited the donation in 2013 from Trump.
When reporters asked candidate-Trump last year about the donation, he denied speaking to her: “I never even spoke to her about it at all. She’s a fine person beyond reproach. Never spoken to her about it, never.”
What Was ‘It’?
What did he mean by “it?” Was “it” the illegal donation itself? Did he mean the Florida Attorney General’s promise to investigate Trump University? Or was “it” something else entirely? If “it” was what he wanted the Florida Attorney General to do with her promised Trump University investigation, that would serve to deny a “pay-for-play” scheme between the two entities, but if “it” referred to the donation, his denial meant that Trump and Bondi were not on the same page, since Bondi testified that the two had spoken about the illegal donation.
Hope Hicks, now the White House communications director, told Politico, “His comments were in reference to any discussion about Trump University—not the donation.”
Hicks’ specificity about the conversation ended at what it was not about, however: [Hicks] could not tell an AP reporter “when the IRS fine was paid, when Trump and Bondi spoke, or what they talked about. ‘I don’t think this was a lengthy, memorable call,’ Hicks told the AP. ‘Mr. Trump talks to a hundred people in any given day. So, I don’t know if I will be able to provide that information.'”
Pay-for-Play or Innocent Mistake
It is possible that Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi’s campaign in 2013 was an example of a naive billionaire not yet knowledgeable about the legal intricacies of political donations. Thus, it is possible that it was not part of a pay-for-play scheme. It is also possible that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had an honest disagreement with several attorneys general in other states about the legality of the business school’s business model. However, she came to her conclusion less than 30 days after he illegally aided her campaign.
Bondi has benefited from her relationship with Donald Trump ever since, and this week, as the attorney general of a state with an opioid crisis on its hands, she gets to join a presidential commission tasked with addressing the opioid crisis just as it unveils its plan but without contributing to its plan.
President Trump seems to believe that everyone can be bought, and he amply rewards those who agree with him and who seem to set their own price for him.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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