TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday defended her decision three years ago to solicit $25,000 from Donald Trump at the same time questions were arising about Trump University.
The Republican and former prosecutor said she had no regrets about asking Trump for money and no regrets about keeping the donation even after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had filed a lawsuit against Trump University.
"If I had returned it, you would have reported 'Bondi accepted a bribe, got caught and returned it,'" Bondi said. "That's how the reporting goes. And so, no, there was nothing improper about it. So there was no reason to return it."
The 2013 check to a committee supporting Bondi's re-election campaign from the Donald J. Trump Foundation violated a federal prohibition against charities giving money to political groups.
The issue flared back to life amid media coverage of Trump's presidential campaign and the recent news that his foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS over the donation. Democrats in Washington and Florida have been demanding investigations into how Bondi's office handled questions about Trump University and the Trump Institute, companies that offered get-rich-quick real-estate seminars.
Tuesday marked the first time that Bondi — who endorsed Trump for president shortly before the Florida primary in March — answered in detail questions about her handling of the donation. Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time she took office in 2011, more than 20 complaints had been filed by former students who claimed they were swindled.
Trump has said in the past that he expected and received favors from politicians to whom he has given money.
The Associated Press reported in June that Bondi personally asked Trump for help for her 2014 re-election. She said Tuesday that she turned to Trump because he was on a list of "friends and family" she sought money from when she first ramped up fundraising efforts. Though Bondi has not given a precise date for her call with Trump, documents show the political action committee she was asking donors to support was created in early August 2013. Trump signed a check on Sept. 9 and it was received by Bondi's political committee on Sept. 17.
But by that time, emails show, top officials in her office — including her chief of staff — were being asked by reporters in Florida about Schneiderman's lawsuit.
Bondi's office said at the time that it was "reviewing" the lawsuit, but it never took any other action. Bondi said her office receives tens of thousands of such complaints each year.
"There was never an investigation into Donald Trump by this office," Bondi said. She added that "we raise millions of dollars, that's only 25,000 in the whole scheme of a campaign."
Bondi said that she was unaware that her office had been asked about the New York lawsuit until a Florida columnist highlighted the case and the donation from Trump in October 2013.
She said she tried to return the $25,000 check to Trump this year when she found out that the money came from his foundation and not from his personal funds. But the Trump Foundation returned the money and told Bondi's accountant that Trump himself had reimbursed the money.
Even after questions were raised about the propriety of her taking money from Trump, she still welcomed the billionaire businessman's support.
Trump hosted a March 2014 fundraiser for Bondi on the lawn of his palatial Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Attendees were asked to give the $3,000 maximum individual donation allowed under state law.
Records show that Bondi's re-election campaign received 24 checks totaling $57,000 on the date of the Trump fundraiser. Justice for All, the political committee supporting Bondi, also took in $30,000 that day.
Florida Democrats said Bondi's public statements did not clear up questions that still remain about the Trump donation.
Rep. Ted Deutch, a South Florida Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that "Bondi's murky answers only raise more questions" that should be looked into by federal prosecutors.
He said the public needs to know exactly when she solicited the donation and whether it was before or after her office made a decision on how to respond to the New York lawsuit.
"Bribery is a serious federal offense, and the Department of Justice needs to determine if Pam Bondi was paid to look the other way as Trump University was cleared of wrongdoing," Deutch said.
Biesecker reported from Washington.
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