September 14, 2016 – The New York Times
by Kevin Sack and Steve Eder
It was Aug. 29, 2013, an unremarkable day inside Florida’s whitewashed Capitol, and a typically sweltering one outside among the moss-bearded oaks and sabal palms. Around 3:45 p.m., Jennifer Meale, the communications director for Attorney General Pam Bondi, fielded a seemingly routine call from a financial reporter for The Orlando Sentinel. The attorney general of New York had recently filed a lawsuit against Donald J. Trump alleging fraud in the marketing of Trump University’s real estate and wealth-building seminars. Had Florida ever conducted its own investigation, the reporter asked.
The call set off an exchange of emails between Ms. Meale and top lawyers in the office. She learned that 23 complaints about Trump-related education enterprises had been filed before Ms. Bondi became attorney general in 2011, and one since. They had never generated a formal investigation, she wrote the reporter, but added, “We are currently reviewing the allegations in the New York complaint.”
The Sentinel’s report, which was published on Sept. 13, 2013, paraphrased Ms. Meale’s response and took it a step further, saying that Ms. Bondi’s office would “determine whether Florida should join the multi-state case.” Four days later, a check for $25,000 from the Donald J. Trump Foundation landed in the Tampa office of a political action committee that had been formed to support Ms. Bondi’s 2014 re-election. In mid-October, her office announced that it would not be acting on the Trump University complaints.
The proximate timing of the Sentinel article and Mr. Trump’s donation, and suspicions of a quid pro quo, have driven a narrative that has dogged Mr. Trump and Ms. Bondi for three years. It has intensified during Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, peaking this month with the filing of ethics complaints, calls for a federal investigation by editorial boards and Democrats in Congress, and a new investigation of Mr. Trump’s foundation by New York regulators.
But documents obtained this week by The New York Times, including a copy of Mr. Trump’s check, at least partly undercut that timeline. Although the check was received by Ms. Bondi’s committee four days after the Sentinel report, and was recorded as such in her financial disclosure filings, it was actually dated and signed by Mr. Trump four days before the article appeared.
The check’s date does not categorically demonstrate that Mr. Trump was not seeking to influence Ms. Bondi, a fellow Republican. Even as he has denied trying to do so in this instance, he has boasted brazenly and repeatedly during his presidential campaign that he has made copious campaign contributions over the past two decades, including to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, in order to buy access and consideration for his business dealings.
Politicians in Florida, which Mr. Trump considers his second home, have been among his leading beneficiaries. An analysis of public records shows he has contributed at least $375,000 to state and federal candidates and political committees here since 1995, accounting for 19 percent of the roughly $2 million he has given to campaigns nationwide, other than his own.
Although not unprecedented, his $25,000 gift to And Justice for All, the committee supporting Ms. Bondi, is among his largest.
What is more, when Mr. Trump wrote that check, he still theoretically had reason to be concerned that Florida’s attorney general could become a player in the legal assault on Trump University.
Through 2010, when the company ceased operations, Florida had been one of the most lucrative markets for his unaccredited for-profit school. It ranked second among states in purchases, with 950 transactions, and third in sales, at $3.3 million, according to an analysis of sales data revealed in court filings. [READ MORE]