About As Clear Cut as They Get

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks in the rain with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, as they arrive at a campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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Yesterday I pressed the point of the wildly dissimilar campaign coverage of Trump and Clinton, particularly the continuing saturation coverage of Clinton ‘scandals’ in which she’s actually being exonerated and virtually no coverage of a pretty cut and dry pay-for-play story with Trump, his foundation and his efforts to protect himself legally from the fallout of the exposure of his real estate seminar scam business, ‘Trump University’. But the case with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is more serious than that. We usually use the phrase ‘pay-to-play’ when talking about money for access, money for government contracts or friendly interventions in the legislative process. The Trump-Bondi case looks like money in exchange for killing an investigation and possible lawsuit against Trump. It would be like Hillary Clinton making a cash payment to Loretta Lynch or James Comey during the email probe.

First, a small point: In the context of chatting about this on Twitter and with colleagues, I took the step of searching The New York Times website to see how much they’d written on the Trump-Bondi story. It first got attention in March and then again in June. So I figured at least a couple short mentions. It turns out the Times, at least according to a full search of “Trump University” and “Pam Bondi”, has literally never published anything on the topic at all.

That seems like a real problem.

But let’s go to the actual story. The Post’s David Fahrenthold late last week came up with substantially more information about Trump’s efforts to conceal the money to Bondi. But I want to go back to what’s actually been known for months.

Here’s the AP’s story from early June. I’m quoting the first four paragraphs with emphasis added …

Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates

The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi.

The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi’s office publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities, according to a 2013 report in the Orlando Sentinel.

After the check came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.

The AG’s office was investigating Trump University and considering joining a lawsuit with other Attorneys General. Bondi asked Trump for money. Trump sent money. The investigation ended. The arrival of Trump’s check just four days after her office publicly announced their inquiry tells quite a tale.

Without a full investigation we can’t say definitively that Pam Bondi had her office drop the case because of Trump’s contribution. (It is unquestionable that she approved ending the investigation knowing that she had just successfully solicited a major monetary contribution from the target of the investigation. It also seems quite likely – though the information in the article doesn’t give us quite enough detail – that she solicited the money knowing her office was currently investigating Trump.) But corrupt quid pro quos are seldom so tightly aligned by the calendar. They also seldom involve the direct personal intervention of the principle involved – in this case, Bondi personally soliciting the contribution from Trump.

Based on the currently available information we can’t say for sure it’s corrupt. But the publicly available information would normally be more than enough to trigger an investigation or at least intense press scrutiny.

Can Florida’s career prosecutors investigate Bondi with any credibility or impartiality? Presumably not. How about Trump? Can the Obama Justice Department do so? So many questions.

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