|Pam Bondi and Donald Trump|
How did such an explosive story, which could torpedo Trump's presidential bid, get started? In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi appeared set to join the New York AG's office in a lawsuit against Trump University. But then, Bondi personally solicited a campaign contribution from Donald Trump, and when a $25,000 check appeared . . . whoosh, Florida no longer was interested in pursuing the Trump University case.
The Sunshine State's press has covered the story with the kind of zeal you rarely see from Alabama's somnolent mainstream media (MSM). That's understandable, given that the story reeks of the kind of "quid pro quo" that could amount to federal-funds bribery, the statute upon which the Don Siegelman case largely was built in Alabama.
The story has gained new traction now that Trump has become the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee and -- surprise -- Bondi has endorsed him.
An Associated Press story, dated June 7, 2016, provides details:
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.
Trump has more or less admitted on the campaign trail that he has little concern about federal bribery statutes. Writes AP:
The timing of the donation by Trump is notable because the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he expects and receives favors from politicians to whom he gives money.
"When I want something I get it," Trump said at an Iowa rally in January. "When I call, they kiss my ass. It's true."
Florida Democrats are calling for an investigation, according to a recent report from Gray Rohrer at the Orlando Sentinel, but those efforts have yet to prove fruitful. Writes Rohrer:
Even as another Democratic state lawmaker called for an investigation of a campaign donation given by Donald Trump to Attorney General Pam Bondi, questions arose Wednesday about who would conduct such a probe.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wrote to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Department of Justice to look into the matter.
"There have been many questions surrounding claims of fraud at Trump University," Bullard stated. "There is even a greater concern of whether a quid pro quo exists within the office for favorable treatment in exchange for campaign assistance."
But no one, so far, is heeding calls for an investigation.
In a not-so-shocking development, politics appears to be standing in the way of justice. Writes Rohrer:
Bondi's fellow Republicans control the Legislature and are unlikely to set up an independent panel to look into the matter. Gov. Rick Scott has referred reporters' questions to the Trump campaign.
There are few other avenues to investigate Florida's top law enforcement official. . . .
Bondi's office did not return calls for comment from the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Tuesday she provided a statement to some news outlets saying stories suggesting a quid pro quo between the donation and the decision not to investigate were "misleading."
A Massachusetts lawyer named Whitfield Larrabee does not intend to let the story slide into the good night. From a report at Raw Story:
Larrabee says he believes Bondi dropped the case as quid pro quo in return for receiving the money.
“If it looks like a bribe and quacks like a bribe, I think it’s a bribe,” Larrabee told the [Orlando] Sentinel.
His complaint, provided to the Sentinel, states, “Evidence strongly indicates that Bondi’s decision not to initiate or participate in litigation against Trump University was given in exchange for Trump’s contribution based on the short time period between the receipt of the political contribution and the announcement of Bondi’s decision not to participate in the New York litigation.”
How do Alabama and Jessica M. Garrison enter the picture? Until January of this year, the Birmingham-based Garrison was senior advisor to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the affiliated Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF). Before that, she was executive director of RAGA and President of (RLDF). Why has Garrison backed away from RAGA and its affilated groups? That's a post for another day, but it's curious that Bondi is a major figure in RAGA -- and she has been at the heart of several controversies.
In fact, a major part of Garrison's job at RAGA apparently was to defend Bondi, who serves on the organization's executive committee as immediate past chair.
When Bondi was criticized in the Florida press for her cozy relationship with out-of-state lobbyists and corporate lawyers, Garrison came to her defense:
Jessica Medeiros Garrison, executive director for the Republican Attorneys General Association, called it "absurd" when asked about The New York Times reporting, which made it appear there is a quid pro quo involving corporations and attorneys general.
"Like all national political organizations, RAGA pays for expenses for its member attorneys general that attend meetings to help with national fundraising," Garrison said in an email Wednesday. "RAGA does this in full compliance with federal and state laws that regulate fundraising and political activity for RAGA and its member attorneys general."
Did Garrison break ties with RAGA earlier this year because she knew the Trump-Bondi story was a bombshell that could explode at any moment? If someone heeds calls for an investigation of the matter, perhaps we will find out.
Whitfield Larrabee, of Massachusetts, might be just the guy to do it.