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Infamous Trump check will loom if Pam Bondi heads to D.C.

Attorney General Pam Bondi may face a Senate hearing if she jumps to a new job.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Attorney General Pam Bondi may face a Senate hearing if she jumps to a new job.

For Attorney General Pam Bondi, the good news is that the next president of the United States may be calling with a big job offer in Washington.

The bad news: The price of that job could be an arduous, intrusive and constitutionally vital step of a Senate confirmation hearing.

For a politician who has at times cringed under the spotlight, that could be a deal-breaker.

This is a pivotal moment for Bondi, a former Tampa prosecutor who was elected attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

By all accounts, she bonded easily with Donald Trump.

She had a prime-time speaking slot at the GOP convention and is the only Floridian on Trump's 16-member transition team executive committee.

Bondi says she won't run for governor, so the next move is obvious: It's a job in D.C.

Will it be the No. 2 job in the Justice Department? U.S. trade representative? Drug czar?

All are great opportunities, but there's a catch — and it involves the infamous $25,000 check that Bondi got from Trump three years ago when New York, but not Florida, was busily investigating fraud complaints involving Trump University.

A Senate hearing would be dominated by harsh questions about that check. Tallahassee lobbyist and GOP strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a friend of Bondi's but also a vocal critic of Trump's, said it won't be fun for Bondi.

"She's going to be sitting there at a table in front of high-powered people of great stature, United States senators," said Stipanovich, "none of whom fell off the turnip truck yesterday."

He said that if Bondi survives unscathed, "the experience can be redemptive, educational, toughening if you will."

But as the attacks escalated in August over the Trump check, Bondi considered much of the criticism unfair, and she retreated.

It wasn't the first time.

Bondi wasn't initially forthcoming about why she asked Gov. Rick Scott to delay the execution of a serial killer in 2013 because she was attending a previously scheduled political fundraiser.

She said the scheduling mishap was done "through staff," but acknowledged her mistake and apologized.

The U.S. Senate is still controlled by Republicans, so Bondi's confirmation is likely. But she would have to endure grilling live on C-SPAN for the world to see.

For that reason, it's also possible that Trump could find room for Bondi in the West Wing in a job that doesn't require the Senate's blessing.

If Bondi packs her bags for D.C., she'll make history in more ways than one.

It's very rare in Florida for an elected Cabinet member to resign midway through a four-year term.

The last time it happened was nearly three decades ago, and it changed the course of Florida politics.

Secretary of State George Firestone, a Democrat, quit in 1987 to take a more lucrative job with a financial firm. His departure gave a golden opportunity to the newly elected Republican governor, Bob Martinez.

He chose Jim Smith, a former two-term attorney general and a Democrat who became a Republican, to succeed Firestone as the state's chief elections official and cultural affairs officer.

Smith was the first Republican Cabinet member in 100 years, and the office stayed under GOP control — remember Katherine Harris and the recount? — until 2002, when a voter-approved shrinking of the Cabinet took effect.

In a similar vein, Bondi's departure would intensify the next race for attorney general in 2018.

With Trump focusing on the most important Cabinet posts in his new administration, it could be quite a while before that happens. That gives Bondi lots of time to answer all those written questions that the Senate demands.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

Infamous Trump check will loom if Pam Bondi heads to D.C. 11/29/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 8:52pm]
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