In late August 2013, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE unleashed a torrent of fury on Twitter and on TV morning shows. He was angry that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had just announced a lawsuit against Trump University on behalf of scores of people in New York and around the country who said they had been defrauded out of thousands of dollars.
On Aug. 25, in the midst of a flood of insults and taunts, Trump tweeted something interesting:
“How can an Attorney General ask for campaign contributions during his evaluation of a case – a total sleazebag!”
He was onto something, just not about Schneiderman. It’s not clear whether Schneiderman asked people in Trump’s organization for money as he was investigating Trump University, as Trump has claimed. But it is clear that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi requested and received money from Trump as her office was considering whether to join the New York action.
Trump was correct that it’s inappropriate for an Attorney General to ask for money under those circumstances—something he clearly knew when he signed his Foundation’s $25,000 check to support Bondi.
Researchers at my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, noticed back in March that this contribution was given by the Trump Foundation to a political organization supporting Bondi called And Justice for All
It’s illegal for a charitable foundation—like the Trump Foundation—to give a political contribution, so we asked the IRS to investigate. A series of revelations and complaints have followed.
The Trump Foundation’s tax returns stated that it gave no money for political purposes and listed a different, permissible non-profit as the recipient of the $25,000—clear false statements to the IRS.
The Trump organization explained the illegal foundation contribution and the false statements as a series of innocent mistakes, an assertion undercut by the fact that Trump signed the check himself and would have seen that it was coming from the foundation and going to Bondi’s group.
It looks like Donald Trump violated the tax code. Repeatedly. So today, we filed an IRS complaint against him. https://t.co/bMiLDQitVh— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) September 21, 2016
But the most serious allegations are that Trump used his foundation contribution to influence Bondi not to pursue legal action against Trump University and related entities. CREW and others have asked the United States Department of Justice to investigate whether this constituted bribery.
Trump and Bondi have said the contribution was not meant to influence Bondi’s decision-making; their camps claimed that neither was thinking about Trump University. Trump’s activity in late August and early September 2013 makes that hard to believe.
Trump tweeted 46 times between Aug. 24 and Sept. 22 about Schneiderman and the lawsuit. On Aug. 26, he appeared on the Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Good Morning America, and Morning Joe to talk about the lawsuit and to savage Schneiderman.
Why did failing A.G. Eric Schneiderman, after years of looking, file his pathetic lawsuit on a SATURDAY afternoon (unheard of)? No case!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2013
Clearly, Trump University and Schneiderman’s lawsuit were on Trump’s mind at the time. The New York Times reported on Aug. 24, 2013, that people had complained to authorities about Trump University in Florida and other states, a fact that became widely reported. Given Trump’s focus on the issue at the time, it is hard to imagine he was not aware of the Florida situation.
Bondi, by her admission, solicited a contribution from Trump in late August 2013. Trump signed the check on Sept. 9. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Bondi’s office was looking into the New York lawsuit on Sept. 13. And Justice for All reported receiving the check on Sept. 17. By October, Bondi’s office was telling reporters that it was not investigating Trump University or joining the lawsuit.
For Bondi’s part, she was assuredly aware of the contribution; it was one of the first large contributions to And Justice For All, which formed in early August 2013, and she personally solicited it.
It is hard to imagine she hadn’t been briefed on what was on Donald Trump’s mind at the time she asked for the donation — regular fundraising practice — and he was not talking about anything more than the Schneiderman suit.
Even if somehow she hadn’t been aware of anything before, she certainly would have known by the time her political organization reported receiving the check that her office was telling the press it was considering joining that suit, and any prosecutor should and would know that taking money from someone the prosecutor was evaluating is a major problem.
After all, Donald Trump had made that exact point just weeks before. If only he had listened to himself.
Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor, is the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at @NoahBookbinder.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.