Editorial: Bondi owes Floridians answers about Donald Trump ties

Attorney General Pam Bondi needs to explain why she appears more willing to look out for Donald Trump than consumers as the state’s chief legal officer.
Attorney General Pam Bondi needs to explain why she appears more willing to look out for Donald Trump than consumers as the state’s chief legal officer.
Published June 8, 2016

Attorney General Pam Bondi needs to explain why she appears more willing to look out for Donald Trump than consumers as the state's chief legal officer. News reports detailing how she personally asked Trump to contribute to her campaign and, after receiving the check, declined to pursue fraud allegations against Trump University and its affiliates raise serious questions about her judgment. Bondi, who has endorsed Trump for president, owes Floridians some direct answers.

The Associated Press reported this week that Bondi solicited a political contribution from Trump around the time her office considered joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates. The $25,000 came from a Trump family foundation, in apparent violation of rules governing charitable activities, and was received by a political group backing Bondi's re-election in September 2013. Days earlier, Bondi had publicly announced that Florida was considering joining a New York investigation into the activities of Trump University.

A Bondi spokesman told the AP that Bondi spoke with Trump "several weeks" before her office publicly announced it was deliberating whether to join a lawsuit proposed by New York's attorney general. The spokesman said Bondi was unaware at the time of dozens of complaints her office had received about Trump University. After the money came in, Bondi's office decided against joining the lawsuit. The timing looks awful, Bondi's not talking and public faith in government has taken another hit.

The Orlando Sentinel fleshed out more details. In response to a public records request, Bondi's office released 8,491 pages of documents. They raise basic questions she needs to answer:

• Why was it appropriate to solicit a contribution from Trump at a time your office was considering legal action against him? Was this accepted practice during your time as a prosecutor in Hillsborough County?

• Since your office maintains there was insufficient evidence to make a case, why not make that analysis public?

• The attorney general's office first claimed it had received "no complaints" about Trump University. That was revised to one complaint, then two, then 100 against "The Trump Group." The AP and the Sentinel cite dozens of complaints made both before and after Bondi took office. How can the attorney general say she was unaware of the complaints before soliciting a contribution?

• The records also show the Attorney General's Office brushed off Floridians' request for help. Confronted with allegations that Trump University had scammed dozens of people, Bondi's staff and that of her predecessor had this advice: Go hire a lawyer. Call someone in New York. Search Google for a class-action case. Is this the best Florida's chief legal officer can do for the people who elected her?

It's Bondi's choice to support whatever candidate she wishes — even one who is so demeaning to women, Hispanics, the disabled and so many other groups. As other Republicans distance themselves from the party's presumptive nominee, Bondi reportedly was on a conference call with Trump on Monday where he directed surrogates to continue criticizing the federal judge presiding over the Trump University case. Trump's continued bigoted attacks on the judge, who was born in Indiana to parents who immigrated from Mexico, have drawn criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans — but not from Bondi. She has tarnished her own reputation by remaining silent and standing with the bigoted billionaire.

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The timeline of Trump's political contribution to Bondi's campaign effort and her decision to avoid investigating fraud charges against his university goes directly to her performance as Florida's top legal officer. She at least owes Floridians answers about her judgment in reaching out to Trump for a contribution, her legal justification for not joining the multistate lawsuit against his university and the scant attention she paid to consumer complaints. She cannot maintain her silence forever.