|Pam Bondi and Donald Trump|
The case might also involve tax fraud, which could explain Trump's reluctance to release his tax returns.
The allegations by Boston-based attorney J. Whitfield Larrabee, outlined in complaints to U.S. attorneys in New York and Florida, stem from a $25,000 campaign contribution from Trump, just before Bondi dropped an investigation of Trump University. (See complaints at the end of this post.)
Larrabee, who also alleges that Trump might have engaged in election-law violations, made his complaints to Robert L. Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Christopher P. Canova, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida.
Here is how Larrabee describes events from fall 2013 that led to his call for a criminal investigation one week ago:
There is probable cause to establish that on September 17, 2013, Donald Trump bribed Pamela Bondi, the Florida Attorney General, in violation of Sections 200.3 and 200.11 of the New York Penal Code, which prohibit the bribery of public servants, by his giving and her receiving of a bribe valued at over $10,000.
According to Bondi’s political consultant Marc Reichelderfer, several weeks prior to September 13, 2013, Bondi spoke to Trump and personally solicited a campaign contribution from him. It is very likely that this solicitation used the interstate telephone system. At the time Bondi solicited this campaign contribution, numerous complaints against Trump University and Trump Institute had been filed and were under review by the Florida Attorney General’s office.
Bondi's office gave the impression that it was taking complaints against Trump University seriously and was possibly going to join a formal investigation. Writes Larrabee:
On September 13, 2013, the Orlando Sun Sentinel reported that a spokesman at the office of the Attorney General of Florida announced that it was conducting a review of the allegations in a New York lawsuit against Trump University. At the time of the review more than 20 Florida residents had filed complaints, alleging fraud and other unfair business practices, with the Attorney General’s office against Trump University and the Trump Institute. Trump actively participated in promoting these businesses, he had a financial interest in each of these ventures, and it was in his financial and legal interest that the Florida Attorney General refrain from joining in or bringing litigation against, Trump, Trump University and the Trump Institute. . . .
In transferring $25,000 to the political committee supporting Bondi, it is very likely that the funds were transferred by the mails, and, through the use of interstate banking facilities, touched upon the interstate system of wires and fiber optic cables. In the unlikely event that the transfer of funds was made in cash and in person, it would require at least one of the parties to travel across state lines, an alternative basis to establish a violation of The Travel Act.
The highlighted sections above point to wire and mail fraud. As for possible bribery, Bondi's approach to the Trump University matter apparently changed once the $25,000 campaign donation arrived:
On September 17, 2013, a political group backing Bondi's re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving a $25,000 contribution from the Trump Foundation.
On or before October 17, 2013, Jeane Meale, a spokeswoman for Bondi, indicated that Bondi's office would take no action against Trump University. Although her office conducted very little if any investigation of the complaints against Trump University and the Trump Institute, Bondi in fact elected not to join in New York litigation against Trump University, and her office made no further effort to initiate litigation against Trump University or the Trump Institute.
A timeline of events suggests Trump and Bondi engaged in unethical and illegal conduct, Larrabee writes:
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. No more than 30 days after the $25,000 payment was made, Bondi’s spokeswoman announced that Bondi would take no action against Trump University and its affiliates. The timing of these events is substantial evidence of a quid pro quo in which Trump gave money to a political committee supporting Bondi’s in exchange for Bondi’s agreement not to take any action against Trump University.
This could go well beyond a standard bribery case. Election-law violations, and much more, appear to be in play. Larrabee explains:
Under the laws of the United States and Florida, it is unlawful for a charitable foundation to contribute funds to a political action committee, and it is unlawful for a political action committee to accept such a contribution.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Trump Foundation is strictly prohibited from making financial or in-kind political contributions. Notwithstanding this prohibition, Trump arranged for the Trump Foundation to make a $25,000 contribution to a political committee supporting Bondi. The Committee, with Bondi’s knowledge and agreement, accepted this donation.
Larrabee's complaints might help explain Trump's reluctance to release his tax returns during the campaign season:
There are reasonable grounds to suspect that Trump has committed tax fraud in violation of the laws of the United States in connection with his use of funds from the Trump Foundation. Funds contributed to charitable foundations are tax deductible. If Trump has deducted contributions to the Trump Foundation that were merely reimbursement of the illegal contribution to And Justice For All, then that deduction was fraudulent. In order to determine whether Donald Trump engaged in tax fraud, it is necessary to view the income tax returns of Trump and the Trump Organization. These tax returns have not been made public. If Trump engaged in tax fraud in connection with contributions to the Trump Foundation, or in connection with political contributions made by the Trump Foundation, then it is more likely that Trump’s support for Bondi was corruptly motivated.