Donald Trump’s gift to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi deserves a closer look

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Donald Trump is greeted by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as she introduces him to speak at a campaign event in Tampa in March.
Donald Trump is greeted by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as she introduces him to speak at a campaign event in Tampa in March. AP

Isn’t it terrible about those connections between the candidate’s foundation and charitable donations that changed hands in what appeared to be play-to-pay? Yes, it is. And now, at last, the Internal Revenue Service has agreed by levying a fine on the foundation for violating the rules that bar political donations by the charities.

Don’t expect Donald Trump to apologize, however. As per custom, his campaign refused to respond to questions by a Times/Herald reporter.

What? You thought we were talking about Hillary Clinton? Don’t blame you. A lot has been made over the Clinton Foundation and its connections to her when she was head of the State Department.

This newspaper, among many others, has chided her for failing to sever the connection with the foundation so as to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest. But despite all the innuendo and suggestions of wrongdoing — despite all the outrage generated by the right-wing attack machine — no actual conflict or legal violation has turned up, even with armies of investigators working feverishly to discover wrongdoing that apparently isn’t there.

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What attracted far less attention than the numerous stories about the Clinton/Foundation connection was news disclosed by the Washington Post that Donald Trump paid a penalty to the IRS involving a $25,000 gift by the Trump Foundation.

The recipient was a political committee called And Justice for All controlled by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. As a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations. The gift violated federal regulations.

That the gift was given and received is not in dispute. The transaction took place. After the IRS action, Mr. Trump reimbursed the foundation and paid the $2,500 fine personally, according to a spokesman for the Trump Organization.

The rest remains murky, and, so far, riddled with contractions and misdirection. Originally, for example, the Trump Foundation said it gave the money to another group in Kansas with a similar name to Ms. Bondi’s political group. Then it blamed a clerical error and said it should have come from Mr. Trump’s account, not from his foundation.

More serious are the questions about why the money was given and how it came about.

Ms. Bondi has admitted that she personally solicited a donation from the candidate. Around the same time, Ms. Bondi’s office said it was weighing an investigation into allegations of fraud against scandal-ridden Trump University. Ms. Bondi, one of Mr. Trump’s top supporters in Florida, ultimately decided not to pursue the case or join New York and other states in a lawsuit.

Mr. Trump has insisted that he never spoke to her about the investigations. “She’s a fine person, beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She’s a fine person. Never spoken to her about it, never,” the candidate said Monday while campaigning in Ohio.

It may all be completely innocent. What is puzzling, given the blanket coverage of the Clinton Foundation, is why the report of a foundation linked to a presidential nominee giving money to an attorney general weighing an investigation of an alleged scam involving the nominee should not get equal billing.

Unlike the faux scandal over the Clinton institution, there were actual victims here — people who paid good money to Trump University and feel they were duped. Why is Pam Bondi not investigating that?