Look Pam Bondi’s gift horse in the mouth

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi greets GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during a Florida campaign stop.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi greets GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during a Florida campaign stop. AP

If Pam Bondi cares at all about the optics, she’ll skip being lead cheerleader at Donald Trump’s rally in Tampa on Saturday. It’ll have that unseemly “bought and paid for” look.

And if Ms. Bondi, Florida’s attorney general, cares at all about assuring Floridians that as their top law-enforcement officer she knows right from wrong, she will instead craft a statement declaring that she, more than anyone else, welcomes an independent investigation into what is being cast as a quid pro quo that benefited both Mr. Trump and Ms. Bondi.

Ms. Bondi, who says she is “devastated” that her integrity is in question, solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump at about the same time that her office was considering joining a New York State investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and affiliated institutions.

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, in September 2013, a political organization backing Ms. Bondi’s re-election campaign received $25,000 from a Trump family foundation.

Four days before the check arrived, Ms. Bondi had announced that her office was considering joining the probe of the now-discredited Trump University following Florida students’ complaints — of which she initially said she had no knowledge — that they had been taken for a ride.

After the check came in, Ms. Bondi abandoned all consideration of partnering with her counterpart in New York. Insufficient grounds, she said.

This week, The Associated Press revealed that Ms. Bondi herself went to Mr. Trump, hat in hand, and asked him for a campaign donation. It’s stunning: Florida’s attorney general solicits, then accepts, money from a potential target of her office. And when the money drops, so does any possibility of any further investigation into complaints against Trump U.

Ms. Bondi, who publicly touted her support for Mr. Trump before the Florida primary in March — is she campaigning for U.S. attorney general? — remains mum on the donation, except to say, “I never, nor was my office, investigating him. Never.”

Even Mr. Trump’s camp, with its take-no-prisoners, make-no-apologies philosophy, has said that his foundation made a mistake. Not only was the gift a potential violation of federal rules, it didn’t make it into the foundation’s IRS filing that year.

Unfortunately, Ms. Bondi has never really shown that her office is above partisanship in pursuit of justice: She sat on her hands rather than launch a criminal investigation into Republican lawmakers’ deceptive process of redistricting. She looked the other way when party officials accepted secret hunting trips to Texas — which may or may not have violated state law.

Indeed, it is Ms. Bondi’s prerogative to decide whether to join other states in any legal action. She jumped in with 16 other states to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, siding with big polluters, many environmentalists say.

But her office has told the aggrieved in Florida to search the internet to find relief in other states’ class-action suits.

Wednesday, the storm intensified. A Massachusetts attorney filed three complaints, claiming she violated the state ethics code, the election laws and the Florida Bar's rules of professional conduct.

Maybe Ms. Bondi is clueless. Maybe Ms. Bondi is corrupt. But we won’t know until there’s an federal investigation into the Trump donation.

Ms. Bondi should welcome it.