Florida Politics

Gillum says his ‘trust’ entangled him in FBI probe. Will that satisfy voters?

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a campaign rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., looks on.
Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a campaign rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., looks on. AP

Andrew Gillum has blamed his meetings with undercover FBI agents on one thing: trusting former lobbyist Adam Corey too much.

“If I had to do it again, I would have been a lot more circumspect about the people who are allowed to be around me and come into my space,” the Democratic nominee for Florida governor told Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” on Tuesday. “But you know what, you live and you learn and you move on.”

But records released hours earlier by Corey’s lawyer contradict Gillum’s portrayal of himself as naive, complicating the Tallahassee mayor’s bid for Florida governor and forcing voters to wonder whom to believe.

The records show Gillum knew well in advance that his out-of-state meetings with Corey could help him network with powerful developers, businessmen and lawyers. That included a trip to New York, where he received a “Hamilton” ticket from an undercover FBI agent, and a trip to the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

In a June 10, 2016, email, for instance, Gillum asked Corey to make a round of introductions.

“I will be in Miami on Friday, June 17 and am pretty flexible on my scheduling,” Gillum wrote. “I am wondering if you have some folks in S. Florida that you think it would be worth me meeting with, politically?”

Corey wrote back: “I have a few young lawyers that have a firm in Miami and Lauderdale and they are expanding to NYC, Dubai, and DC. I want you to meet them.”

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In the trip to New York, Corey told him he would be meeting with the local businessmen (undercover FBI agents). And during the trip to Qatar, Gillum ended up socializing with a top Comcast lobbyist.

With less than two weeks before the race between Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis will be decided, voters are trying to make sense of the last-minute records dump by Corey and his Tallahassee lawyer, Chris Kise. It’s highly unlikely that either the FBI investigation or the ethics case will finish before the Nov. 6 election.

Gillum could waive confidentiality in the ethics case, but his lawyer has advised him not to do it, saying it could expose him to unfounded evidence.

Kise said he released the records after getting a subpoena from the Florida Commission on Ethics, a nine-member Republican-controlled board with a staff of about 25 that can recommend penalties for infractions by public officials. The commission is looking into complaints that Gillum did not disclose gifts during trips he made with Corey to New York and Costa Rica.

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Snapshots from Andrew Gillum’s trip to New York City with Adam Corey and others. Special to the Herald/Times

The ethics investigator requested “all documents or records related to travel of Adam Corey that included Andrew Gillum during 2016.” The records Kise released, however, don’t include a trip Corey arranged for Gillum in February 2016.

On that trip, Gillum went to Tampa to meet with one of Corey’s clients, an affordable housing developer, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Gillum paid for the trip out of his office account.

Kise said he’s still reviewing records Corey gave him and will release those relating to any other trips Gillum and Corey took. Corey, he said is “absolutely not” trying to ruin Gillum’s campaign. And Kise, who worked on Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team, said he isn’t working from any political motive.

“I would direct your attention to the long history of campaign contributions to Adam Putnam,” Kise said, referring to the outgoing agriculture commissioner, who lost the Republican primary for governor to DeSantis. “The bottom line is, I was a Putnam guy.”

Kise noted that he turned over the records to both the Gillum and DeSantis campaigns before sending them to the media.

“We’re doing our best to be as nonpartisan as possible under the circumstances,” he said.

Kise said the release is meant to show that his client did nothing wrong in his interactions with Gillum, and to deflect criticism that his client is at the center of the FBI’s long-running probe in Tallahassee. The investigation has not led to any charges against anyone, and Gillum said he’s been assured by agents that he’s neither a target nor a focus of the probe.

Last year, after news that three developers who went through Corey to meet with Gillum in Tallahassee and New York were actually undercover FBI agents, Gillum announced he was breaking all contact with Corey. And he publicly wondered whether Corey, his longtime friend, had been knowingly working with the FBI to set him up.

“I had a trusting relationship, and I felt like I allowed people around me who were acquaintances of his because I trusted him,” Gillum told the Democrat last year. “And it appears that if these guys were here for an investigation, that the only way they got to me was by leveraging my friendship with Adam.”

Gillum was officially in New York City on behalf of the People for the American Way Foundation, a liberal advocacy group that employed him.

But the records indicate Gillum knew in advance that the last part of the trip would be spent with his brother, Corey and at least one of Corey’s clients, a developer by the name of “Mike Miller” who was an undercover FBI agent.

The pattern continued in other trips. Mike Miller was invited to a Tallahassee Chamber retreat dinner in August 2016 paid for jointly by Corey and lobbyist Sean Pittman, who is now one of Gillum’s top advisers.

The $5,900 dinner at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island — featuring dinner for 27 and more than $1,000 in drinks — was cohosted by the two lobbyists. Invitees included Gillum, Gillum’s wife, then-state Rep. Alan Williams and Ken Fowler, a Gillum friend.

And during a trip to Dubai that was sponsored by UCLA, Gillum brought Corey along. Emails show that part of the trip was spent with former Comcast lobbyist Rick Smotkin, who drew media attention earlier this year after it emerged he had helped organize a $100,000 trip to Morocco for former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The emails indicate Smotkin might have covered at least part of the trip for Corey.

“Thanks again for a wonderful meal and experience last night,” Corey wrote to Smotkin, copying Gillum. “I had a blast!”

Gillum’s campaign declined to respond to questions Wednesday on whether anyone other than the event organizers — including Smotkin — had paid for Gillum’s meals or hotel stay in Dubai.

“This trip has been reported on before,” campaign spokesman Geoff Burgan said, “and with 13 days left in the election, this partisan witch hunt, led by one of Rick Scott’s former political appointees, is becoming a sideshow. The mayor paid for his own roundtrip flight to Dubai.”

Whether the controversy swirling around the case will matter to voters is another question. Floridians voted twice for Gov. Rick Scott despite his connection to the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history at the time. And DeSantis faced an ethics complaint this year over a condo he rented from a campaign donor. DeSantis resigned from Congress before the case was resolved.

Attorney Barry Richard, who is representing Gillum in his ethics case, noted that nobody is accusing Gillum of doing special favors for Miller or Corey.

“This whole thing, all of these documents, are fully consistent with what he’s been saying,” Richard said. “The whole thing, frankly, from a political standpoint, is kind of silly.”

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