Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Despite ethical questions about that check, expect Bondi to stump for Trump

The bombshell accusation that Attorney General Pam Bondi personally asked for a campaign contribution from Donald Trump around the time her office was reviewing citizen complaints against Trump U — plus the serendipitous timing of Trump's campaign stop here today in Bondi's hometown — put me in mind of a moment from Gone With the Wind.

Stick with me on this a minute.

This week came news that before her 2014 re-election, Bondi personally solicited a contribution from Trump, today the bombastic uberstar Republican whom Bondi is enthusiastically endorsing for president.

Swiftly following that revelation were complaints to state ethics and elections officials and the Florida Bar, accusing Bondi of everything from misusing her public position to dishonesty and fraud.

Bondi has called the news reports on this "misleading" and the complaints against her "without merit."

Interesting that she referred to questions raised about the timing of this particular campaign contribution "attacks" — and not, say, a misinterpretation that she can easily and quickly clear up with a transparent airing of all the facts and the timing.

But hey, calling a situation that would raise the eyebrows of any reasonable person an "attack" kind of turns things around in your favor, doesn't it? It's downright Trumpian.

Just this week, Bondi was part of a Trump conference call that dealt with his criticism of a federal judge's Mexican heritage, during which Trump encouraged campaign surrogates, Bondi included, to cast reporters themselves as the racists.

Hey, I'm not the bad guy! The person accusing me of being a bad guy is the actual bad guy! See how that works?

So in this Trump/Bondi campaign contribution scenario, even if you don't believe what happened was a quid pro quo — a blatant and ugly you-do-this-for-me-and-I'll-do-that-for-you — you have to, at the very least, consider the appearance of impropriety.

We give our elected state prosecutors immense powers. Asking them to take every caution to make sure every decision appears impartial and apolitical is just a no-brainer.

So perhaps asking for a contribution and taking $25,000 from a guy being looked at because of serious consumer fraud complaints is maybe not your best idea. Particularly if you want the people who put you in office to think protecting them is Job One, or at least in front of the task of getting yourself re-elected.

So Trump comes to the Tampa Convention Center today, with Bondi expected to be front and center. No doubt she's still got some hometown muscle, having once been a well-regarded, well-liked local prosecutor before she went off to Tallahassee — a place careers go to soar and, sometimes, souls to die.

So back to Gone With the Wind, and this great scene of reckoning. Our heroine Scarlett is seen in an embrace with true love Ashley, who happens to be another woman's husband (big scandal). Then Scarlett's own husband, Rhett, forces her to attend Ashley's birthday party with everyone there — to face the music, to shoulder any shame that might be deserved.

Will Bondi show up for Trump, given the ethical questions simmering about that check?

Of course she will.

How old-fashioned to think an appearance of impropriety — or better yet, making explaining her actions a priority over politics — would take precedence.

How, pardon the expression, gone with the wind.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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