Some very interesting developments in the Trump/Bondi pay-to-play story. The indefatigable Sopan Deb (one of the reporter standouts of 2016) reports that Trump today flatly denied ever speaking to Bondi about his foundation’s contribution to Bondi’s campaign in 2013, just before her office decided not to join New York State’s suit against Trump and Trump University.
Trump: “I never spoke to her” … “Never spoke to her about that at all.”
Who knows? But according to multiple reports, well before this became a big story and never denied by Trump, Pam Bondi personally solicited the contribution from Trump.
Here’s the AP from last June: “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.” (emphasis added)
Bondi responded furiously to the AP report, pushing back against claims of impropriety. But she never disputed the AP’s claim that she solicited the contribution personally.
From The Tampa Bay Times the day after the AP story appeared …
“I never, nor was my office, investigating him. Never. I would never lie. I would never take money. I’ve been obviously devastated over this,” Bondi said in a voicemail message to a Times/Herald reporter.
In a separate statement, Bondi called Monday’s Associated Press report on the Trump University issue “misleading,” adding: “No one in my office ever opened an investigation of Trump University, nor was there a basis for doing so.”
The AP account said Bondi “nixed” suing Trump, but it did not say that she had opened an investigation.
Again, she definitely was not happy with the AP report. But a central element of the story was that Bondi personally asked Trump for the contribution. Indeed, it’s in the first sentence of the story. But she never disputed this claim. Trump never did either. Of course, perhaps Trump simply wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the story. But Bondi quite clearly did.
So where did the AP get the idea that Bondi spoke to Trump directly? From an on the record interview with her political consultant Marc Reichelderfer, who Bondi asked to speak to the AP on her behalf!
Given that this information came from Bondi’s consultant, speaking to the AP on her behalf while trying to defend her against claims of a conflict of interest – and that it was never disputed post-publication – it is overwhelmingly likely that the two did speak and that Trump is lying.
Late Update: I liked this above. But since some are now questioning just what Trump denied talking about, here’s the full transcript of Trump’s remarks, courtesy of Sopan Deb of CBSNews.
I think it’s possible to argue that he was only talking about the Trump University lawsuit. But I think that’s a very generous interpretation. He gets asked about whether it was “pay to play” and he flatly denies talking to her about it at all. That seems like a flat denial that they had any conversation about either the donation or the case. That is how Politico interpreted the comment before the earlier comments from Bondi’s representative surfaced: “Donald Trump insisted Monday that he never spoke to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi about a $25,000 donation his foundation made to her in 2013 as she contemplated whether to investigate Trump University.” Certainly that’s how it was intended to be understood. If what he really meant was yes, she called me and asked me to send her a political contribution and we discussed that but we didn’t discuss the case, maybe someone should follow up to clarify?