Donald Trump has made it clear that he views campaign donations as bribes.
“As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump said in July 2015. “As a businessman, I need that.”
At a rally in Iowa in January, he put it even more plainly. “When I want something I get it,” Trump said. “When I call, they kiss my ass. It’s true.”
Now it is becoming clearer every day that Trump has given donations to at least two Republican state attorneys generals — Greg Abbott, who is now governor of Texas, and Pam Bondi of Florida — who then decided not to pursue fraud investigations into his Trump University get-rich scheme.
This scandal in which the Republican presidential nominee appears to have bribed state officials has largely been ignored by the Beltway media, who are instead fixated on Hillary Clinton’s ineptitude as a webmaster when she served as secretary of state.
But with new reports that Trump paid a $2,500 fine related to one of the donations, it appears unlikely that the “liberal media” can continue to ignore what could well be the biggest scandal of the 2016 campaign.
Here’s a brief chronology of the alleged bribery scandal, in case you’re just tuning in.
The scheme attracted attention from regulators soon after Trump launched it in 2005. According to the conservative political journal, National Review, “the New York State Education Department warned that it was in violation of state law for operating without a NYSED license. Trump ignored the warnings.”
Five years later, dissatisfied customers across the country filing lawsuits alleging that Trump U. was a scam.
In a deposition for one of the lawsuits a former sales manager for the seminars put it plainly. “I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Ronald Schnackenberg wrote, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
In New York, then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a probe into the scheme. In an interview later on CNN, Schneiderman described the Trump U. operation as “a classic bait-and-switch scheme. It was a scam, starting with the fact that it was not a university.”
In 2010 then-Attorney General Greg Abbott launched a similar investigation into “possibly deceptive trade practices” in Texas. But, according to a June 2, 2016, report by the Associated Press,”Abbott’s probe was quietly dropped … when Trump University agreed to end its operations in Texas. Trump subsequently donated $35,000 to Abbott’s successful gubernatorial campaign, according to records.”
“The decision not to sue him was political,” John Owens, a former deputy director of the Texas Consumer Protection Division, said recently. “Had [Trump] not been involved in politics to the extent he was at the time, we would have gotten approval. Had he been just some other scam artist, we would have sued him.”
Three years later, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also considered investigating fraud charges against Trump. According to the same AP report:
Three days after Bondi’s spokeswoman was quoted in local media reports as saying the office was reviewing the New York lawsuit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made a $25,000 contribution to a political fundraising committee supporting Bondi’s re-election campaign. Bondi, a Republican, soon dropped her investigation, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.
But, according to subsequent story by the Associated Press , Bondi actually solicited the donation from Trump at the same time she was deciding whether to pursue investigating him for fraud:
The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi’s office publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities, according to a 2013 report in the Orlando Sentinel.
After the check came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.
Reacting to the report, Bondi fervently objected to being accused of seeking a bribe but never denied she’d solicited the donation:
“I never, nor was my office, investigating him. Never. I would never lie. I would never take money. I’ve been obviously devastated over this,” Bondi said in a voicemail message to a Times/Herald reporter.
In a separate statement, Bondi called Monday’s Associated Press report on the Trump University issue “misleading,” adding: “No one in my office ever opened an investigation of Trump University, nor was there a basis for doing so.”
The AP account said Bondi “nixed” suing Trump, but it did not say that she had opened an investigation.
In June, at the same time the AP was reporting on Trump’s apparent quid pro quo donations to Bondi, Trump commandeered the news cycles for several days by attacking the Mexican heritage of an Indiana-born judge in California who was overseeing a Trump University lawsuit there.
It’s impossible to know whether Trump — a master media manipulator — deliberately attacked the judge’s ethnicity as a gambit to rile the media in order to divert accusations of corruption. Whatever his intentions were, in effect that is exactly what happened.
Media interest in the story died so quickly that during Bondi’s speech at the Republican Convention a month later she felt sufficiently secure safe from prosecution that she cheered on conventioneers’ chants of “Lock her up,” referring to Hillary Clinton.
But now the scandal has reared its ugly head again. Just last week, the Washington Post reported that the IRS had fined Trump’s foundation related to the donation — and it appears that Trump may have tried to disguise the donation by listing it as having gone to a group with a name that was deceptively similar to Bondi’s organization.
Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump’s company said, after it was revealed that Trump’s charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general…
In [its 2013] tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump’s foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi’s political group. In fact, Trump’s foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.
The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.
Trump’s business said it was unaware of any of these mistakes until March, when it heard from the watchdog group and The Post.
“It was just an honest mistake,” A Trump Organization spokesman told the Post. “It wasn’t done intentionally to hide a political donation, it was just an error.”
Reacting to reporters questions about the donations yesterday, Trump offered a classic non-denial denial:
No. I never spoke to her. She’s a fine person beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it all. She’s a fine person. Never spoken to her about it. Never. Many of the attorney generals [sic] turned that case down because I’ll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her about it.
When asked what he expected to get in return for the donation, Trump repeated that he’d never spoken with Bondi. He also noted that he “a lot of respect for her as a person,” adding, “She is very popular.”
In an interview on MSNBC yesterday, Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert critcized the imbalance in the media’s coverage of the Trump and Clinton foundatins:
For 18 months the press has been looking for a pay-for-play for the Clinton Foundation, quid pro quo. It started in the spring of last year. They haven’t found it.
This is exactly what they have been looking for. This is, [had it involved the Clintons], this would be all over the news. One mention on the Sunday shows over the weekend about it. Very little headlines or things like that.
Previously Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today all wrote editorials: “you have to shut down the Clinton Foundation.” Not because they’ve done anything wrong. It just doesn’t look good.
Now we’ve got Trump sending $25,000 checks to get investigations shut down. Where are those editorials, right? Where is that thunder? Where is that lecturing tone about how Trump really needs to figure out how to abide by the ethics?
This is an amazing, amazing double standard.