Orlando Sentinel Columnist Calls for Federal Probe

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, is greeted by Attorney General of Florida Pam Bondi, left, as he arrives at the Palm Beach County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner at the Mar-A-Lago Club, Sunday, March 2... Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, is greeted by Attorney General of Florida Pam Bondi, left, as he arrives at the Palm Beach County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner at the Mar-A-Lago Club, Sunday, March 20, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) MORE LESS
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Over the last few days, as I’ve been writing about the Trump/Bondi story, I’ve had a number of people tell me someone should FOIA (or its Florida equivalent) the documents about Bondi’s office’s investigation or review of Trump University. But over the long weekend, I actually found an article from June by Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, who’s literally been on the case from the very beginning in the fall of 2013. Back in June of this year, when the Trump-Bondi story flared up for the second time during the campaign, Maxwell put in just such a request. After a few weeks he got a big stack of paper, almost 8,500 pages, the upshot of which is that it didn’t seem like Bondi’s office had really looked into the matter much at all. In fact, most of the paper dealt with staff putting off reporters asking what her office was doing about Trump University and its collateral and related scams or telling cheated Floridians to try Google to get their money back.

As Maxwell put it …

Her office took about four weeks to respond and then finally did so with a massive document dump — thousands of pages, many of which were exchanges with the press about why they weren’t investigating now and stressing they never had. A copy of an email I sent back in 2013 was included 39 different times.

All told, they provided 8,491 pages of records.

Basically, Maxwell found no evidence that Bondi’s office had ever done much of anything to respond to the complaints about Trump University. But he did find gems like this …

In one case, a man said Trump University cost him $26,000 and drove him into bankruptcy. He asked if Bondi would follow the New York attorney general’s lead in investigating the matter. Bondi’s office instead suggested he “visit an Internet search engine such as http://www.yahoo.com or http://www.google.com to search for information on any class action lawsuits you may benefit from.” (Page 5,449)

In a sense I guess you could say that the documents are paradoxically exonerating because if Bondi nixed a probe because of Trump’s payoff there actually wasn’t a lot to nix. But remember, the real issue was that the New York State lawsuit by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman raised pressure on Bondi to act because a huge number of the complainants were actually Floridians. Trump was in the midst of a press war with Schneiderman, attacking him to prevent the lawsuit. All the parties knew that Florida was a hotbed of Trump University swindles. Thus Bondi’s office’s announcement that she was reviewing whether to join the New York State lawsuit.

Tonight Maxwell followed up with a new column. The bulk of his column is making the case that while he understands all the focus on Trump, it’s Bondi who most deserves scrutiny and has since the whole story started about exactly three years ago. He mainly seems worried that once Trump attacks a new immigrant family or triggers another international crisis, people will forget about this story and Bondi will skate. After reviewing the Schneiderman case and finding it filled with instances of Floridians ripped off by Trump University he ends up calling for a federal probe of Bondi, realizing that the relevant officials in Florida simply don’t want to look under the Bondi rock.

This has gone on long enough. Bondi’s actions need to be probed by an independent body. And the Floridians who filed complaints deserve to have their concerns reviewed by someone who didn’t take campaign money from the man they were complaining about.

The Florida Bar says it has no jurisdiction. The state attorney in Leon County has taken a pass. So have the governor’s office and the Legislature, both of which could demand hearings if they wanted.

If Floridians want action, they should speak up. But it may be up to the U.S. Justice Department.

Needless to say, I find myself in hearty agreement with Maxwell on this point. But it’s not a zero sum. It takes two to make a corrupt bargain. Trump also needs to be investigated for his role in this grifty exchange. That would of course mean Loretta Lynch would have to authorize a DOJ investigation. If she seems to close to the matter, perhaps all could agree that an independent prosecutor is called for.

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