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Florida’s Pam Bondi defends Trump in a new - yet familiar - gig

“People are going to discover all over again what Pam Bondi’s made of,” says the consultant who engineered her foray into politics 10 years ago.
FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after meeting with President Donald Trump about about responses to school shootings. Bondi is preparing to defend Trump against accusations that he pressured a foreign government to aid his re-election campaign. And she’s stepping down from a lobbying where she represented foreign interests (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP]
Published Nov. 12
Updated Nov. 12

Pam Bondi was once a fixture on Tampa Bay television stations, appearing regularly on the 6 o’clock news from crime scenes and courtrooms.

Expect to see much more of her — only this time on national television, and at all hours.

Over the next year, Bondi will use one of her greatest political skills — an ability to connect with TV audiences — on behalf of President Donald Trump.

RELATED: Pam Bondi’s career path could lead to post in Trump’s White House

The White House announced last week that Bondi, 53, had been hired temporarily to coordinate and be the public face of the response to the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump, someone Bondi has been close to for years.

For one of the greatest dramas in American political history, Bondi is straight out of “central casting,” said Adam Goodman, who engineered her run for Florida attorney general in 2010.

“She feels the moment. This was the moment she could be most impactful for the president and the country,” Goodman said. “People are going to discover all over again what Pam Bondi’s made of."

What she brings to Washington is decades of experience in front of the cameras, combined with a hyper-partisanship she shared with then-Gov. Rick Scott that left her deeply controversial in Florida.

"Rick Scott and Pam Bondi’s approach was, ‘Public opinion be damned, I’m going to toe the party line, and I’m not going to veer in any direction that could be met with resistance from the Republican base,' " said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.

After leaving office, Bondi started lobbying this summer for Ballard Partners, the Florida-based firm that has shifted its focus to Washington following Trump’s election.

And that’s where she worked until last week, when Trump beckoned her for a gig that will put Bondi, once again, in front of the TV cameras.

* * *

Bondi was a lifetime prosecutor and semi-regular spokeswoman for the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office when she decided to run for public office 10 years ago.

She had years of experience on local and national television, and she frequently weighed in on the nation’s courtroom dramas as a guest on CNN and Fox News.

When Goodman pushed her run for attorney general, one of the first things he did was hold a focus group that compared his new client to other Republicans in the field.

Both of her opponents had more time in elected office. But nearly every member of the focus group was drawn to Bondi, then a career prosecutor with hours of experience in front of television cameras.

The message was clear, Goodman said: Get Bondi on TV and let her make her case.

“They really felt that they could trust her,” Goodman said.

RELATED: Pam Bondi, with Republican attorney general coalition, involves herself in faraway court fights

She ran on a pro-business agenda, and she made good on it in office. She challenged the Affordable Care Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on air pollutants. She decided not to investigate complaints made about Trump University by Floridians who claimed the university’s real estate courses were fraudulent at about the same time her campaign accepted a $25,000 check from Trump’s charitable foundation.

RELATED: Pam Bondi breaks silence, defends handling of Trump University issue

After leaving office in January, Bondi was offered television shows and was rumored for multiple federal government jobs. She instead chose to lobby, joining the firm run by Brian Ballard.

She’s spent the summer lobbying in Washington on behalf of more than a dozen companies and entities, including private prisons operator Geo Group for “promoting the use of public-private partnerships in correctional services,” federal records show.

She also flew to Kuwait on behalf of another client, Kuwait-based KGL Investment Company, whose CEO, Marsha Lazareva, a Russian national, was recently indicted on two counts of money laundering by Kuwaiti authorities.

The company, which maintains the charges are bogus, has paid Ballard’s firm $300,000 this year to lobby U.S. officials on whether Magnitsky Act sanctions could be used to target Kuwaiti officials who have been in a long-running dispute with the firm.

“The first time I saw her (Lazareva) in court, she was in shackles, this little woman, and they had her locked up in a barbed-wire prison where temperatures topped 100 degrees,” Bondi told Newsmax in September.

***

Perhaps her most controversial client, however, was Qatar, the tiny Persian Gulf nation that is hosting the 2022 World Cup. More than 90 percent of the country’s workforce consists of migrant workers, who remain vulnerable to exploitation and abuse to the companies that hire them.

While the country has made efforts to crack down, they’ve been seen as half-measures by human rights organizations, who say the country has invested more in its image than in reforms.

“They’ve put a lot more money and time and investment into projecting that image instead of fixing things on the ground,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The country was paying Ballard $115,000 a month.

Zayadin, who was unaware of Bondi’s work for Qatar, warned that people being paid by the country could be used to cover real problems.

“They’ve got to be really careful about not misrepresenting the situation on the ground,” Zayadin said. “They could risk acting like someone who’s whitewashing the country’s abuses.”

Federal records show Bondi’s job was advising the country on human trafficking efforts and providing “support regarding Qatari relations with U.S. government officials, U.S. business entities, and non-governmental audiences, in dealing with matters pertaining to combating human trafficking.”

The Qatari embassy did not return a request for comment on Bondi’s work. Bondi referred comments to fellow Ballard lobbyist Justin Sayfie, who said she did not lobby for the country. He said her work “has been solely focused on assisting Qatar develop effective anti-human trafficking efforts related to the 2022 World Cup.”

Bondi also lobbied on human trafficking issues on behalf of Major League Baseball and the Tampa-based US Institute Against Human Trafficking, a Christian-focused nonprofit advocacy group. Her work for the institute included “human trafficking awareness” and “federal financial participation,” federal records show.

While she championed anti-human trafficking work as attorney general, her results were mixed. A 2015 investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found just 51 people were charged by her office in her first five years.

And Pasco County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Tepper told WFTS-TV in 2016 that she was frustrated that Bondi was not doing enough to combat trafficking, telling the station that “it’s not about getting your picture on a billboard.”

Tepper stood by her words when reached Monday.

“My opinion never changed,” Tepper said in a text message, “as I was unaware of what she did individually to cause change.”

In Washington, her strengths — and friendship with Trump — could help her survive what has often been a ruthless revolving door in the White House, friends and allies said.

“She’s a very, very loyal person,” said Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden, who has been friends with her for decades. “If you’re a friend, you’re a friend for life, and she never forgets that.”

Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy White House correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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