Donald Trump's $25,000 Pam Bondi problem
© Getty Images

Monday was a big day on the campaign trail.

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2016 pollsters erred by not weighing education on state level, says political analyst Could President Trump's talk of a 'red wave' cause his supporters to stay home in midterms? Dem group targets Trump in M voter registration campaign: report MORE actually answered unscripted questions from reporters for the first time in, what, eight months?

Both campaigns focused their stretch-run firepower on Ohio, and caused a near-case of tarmac-lock as planes for GOP nominee Donald Trump and Clinton and their running mates converged at the Cleveland airport at the same time.

ADVERTISEMENT

But in the minds of at least some partisan observers, the biggest moment of the day was Trump's declaration that he "never spoke" to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) about a $25,000 donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation that arrived at the same time she was deciding whether to investigate Trump University and its get-rich-quick seminars.

This is a big story that has truly failed to crack the top crust of the mainstream news media, a fact that continues to baffle and outrage Clinton supporters who feel that their candidate is subjected to a daily barrage of pointed questions about email servers and pay-to-play accusations while Trump seems to get a pass on what some say is a case of outright bribery.

Here's the backstory.

In September 2013, the Florida attorney general's office announced that it was considering joining a New York state inquiry into Trump University and the flood of consumer complaints from people who felt that they were ripped off by the so-called "university."

In roughly the same time period, Bondi spoke personally with Trump and solicited a political contribution from him. These facts are all explained in strong detail in an Associated Press report from June of this year.

On Sept. 17, three days after a spokesman for Bondi told the Orlando Sentinel that her office was, indeed, considering joining the Trump U. investigation, a $25,000 check was cut by Trump's foundation and sent to a committee associated with Bondi's campaign.

According to a Sentinel report from the time, it was one of the biggest contributions the campaign committee had received. We've since learned, thanks to The Washington Post, that the Trump Foundation is a small organization with "no paid staff and relatively little money for a superwealthy man's personal charity."

And after the check arrived, Bondi's office decide not to pursue a case against Trump U., saying there were insufficient grounds to join the New York state probe.

Fast-forward three years, and there's Pam Bondi delivering a prime-time address to the Republican National Convention on the subject of law enforcement.

And after the AP report in June focused new attention on the case, Bondi defended her actions. "No one in my office ever opened an investigation on Trump University nor was there a basis for doing so," she said. "Any news story that suggests otherwise is completely false."

Although the national news media gave little coverage to Trump's donation, it has continued to provoke outraged headlines in the Florida press: "Donald Trump buys himself an attorney general for $25,000," declared the Miami Herald in June 2016. A few months earlier, the Orlando Sentinel wrote: "Trump's $25K to A.G. Bondi merits probe."

Many of these accounts also pointed out how the Trump foundation contribution violated IRS rules, as tax-exempt charitable institutions are forbidden to make political donations.

Trump has since paid a $2,500 penalty to the IRS for the improper donation, according to a recent Washington Post report. The Post's account is worth a read, since it also seems to suggest that the Trump foundation attempted to cover up the mistake.

A Trump official insisted, though, that there was no intent to deceive. "It was just an honest mistake," Jeffrey McConney of the Trump Organization told the Post. "It wasn't done intentionally to hide a political donation, it was just an error."

Let's ignore, for a moment, the IRS issue. The Trump campaign seems to think it has now fulfilled its duty to the U.S. government.

But that does nothing to address the deeper question of whether Trump tried to use the power of a big campaign check to win the support of Florida's top law-enforcement official at a time when her office could have caused him considerable headache over his matchbook university.

Trump has made no secret in the past of his belief that donations are part of a quid pro quo between wealthy people and politicians. In a campaign appearance in Iowa in January, Trump talked about the corrupting power of money in politics and how he himself had to pay to play.

"I've got to give to them, because when I want something, I get it," he said. "When I call, they kiss my ass."

We are a long way from knowing precisely if that's what Trump expected when the $25,000 check was written for the Bondi campaign.

But we do know, from his statements on Monday, that Trump is now saying he didn't talk with Bondi about the donations.

And we also know that a spokesman for Bondi told the Associated Press in June that she in fact did talk with Trump about it.

Both of these statements cannot be true.

Roberts is a former assistant managing editor of The New York Times.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.