Fred Grimm

Donald Trump buys himself an attorney general for $25,000

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Miami Herald

They were described as Donald Trump’s “surrogates,” a cabal of second-tier politicians included in the now-infamous conference call as the unrepentant presidential candidate renewed his rant about that “Mexican” judge. You know ... the one born in Indiana.

Bloomberg Politics, which broke the story, reported that has-beens like former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown were on the line as Trump went off (again) on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel and told his supporters to follow his incendiary lead. He said they should demonize the judge and call any reporter who questioned the strategy a racist.

Nobody much cared what private citizens like Brewer and Brown might be up to. But Floridians could only cringe when another of the Trump conference call surrogates was identified. Pam Bondi, supposedly, works for us.

Our state’s chief legal officer was party to a diatribe that conservative legal scholars criticized as contemptuous of American jurisprudence and Republican political leaders decried as outright racist. Apparently, Florida’s attorney general listened without offering a word of protest.

It gets worse. Trump has been railing that Judge Curiel shouldn’t be allowed to preside over a civil fraud suit against Trump University because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. (Because, according to his convoluted reasoning, Trump intends to build that wall along the Mexican border.)

The conference call occurred on Monday. That same day, an investigative AP report revealed that back in 2013, even as the attorney general’s office was receiving angry complaints from Floridians claiming they had been defrauded by Trump’s faux university and not long after her office intimated Florida might join New York’s $40 million lawsuit against Trump University, Bondi had “personally solicited” a campaign contribution from Trump.

It gets even worse. After a Bondi campaign committee received a $25,000 check from the Trump Foundation, the attorney general’s office dropped its inquiry into Trump U. (In a call to the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times bureau Tuesday, Bondi protested that her office had never opened a formal investigation.)

And worse still. The donation — from Trump’s Section 501©(3) charitable foundation — was illegal. And never reported to the IRS. Tax-exempt charitable foundations are prohibited from engaging in political activity. That’s for Trump and the IRS to work out. But how the hell could a prohibited transgression like that go unremarked for nearly three years by its recipient, Florida’s chief legal officer? How was it that the very attorney general failed to check the provenance of her $25,000 donation?

Which only adds another sleazy chapter to Bondi’s history of bent ethics. In 2014, The New York Times reported that a Washington lobbying firm specializing in influencing state attorneys general had lavished considerable attention on Bondi, showering her with gifts, exotic junkets and campaign contributions. Meanwhile the Florida Attorney General’s Office lost interest in pursuing fraud allegations dogging the firm’s various clients.

Despite the ethical conflicts, Bondi is scheduled to appear with Trump at a campaign rally in Tampa Saturday. When Donald Trump buys himself an attorney general, he gets his money’s worth.

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