Monday, September 05, 2016

A Serious Scandal For a Deadly Serious Election Year

This has been a story floating out there for months now, and I hadn't even focused on it much because 1) There were 50 other terrible stories about Trump and 2) There were 20 other terrible stories about corrupt Florida Republicans. But now there's starting to be some buzz about this, since the major papers including the Washington Post are now paying attention:

Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University...
...The large donation, made by the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2013, violated federal rules that prohibit charities from making donations to political candidates. Trump and his team also failed to disclose the large gift to the Internal Revenue Service, instead reporting that the donation was given to an unrelated group with a similar name — effectively obscuring the contribution.
Bondi ultimately decided not to open an investigation against Trump’s embattled for-profit education business...
So, here's a few things to point out:

  • The donation violated federal rules, even in this age of Citizens United.
  • Trump's people refused to report this properly to the IRS, trying to hide it by claiming it went to a different group. Repeat: they hid what they did, they knew what the rules were and attempted to avoid them.
  • Bondi ended the investigation into Trump's scam program. Other states that investigated Trump University DID NOT end their investigations and in fact pressed charges. Court cases are starting this November (unfortunately, not until after the general election).

There's more: There is evidence Bondi went to Trump's people asking for the donation.

Anyone remember enough of their high school Latin to know what quid pro quo means?

It means roughly "this for that." It means an exchange of favors: You do this for me, I do that for you. In politics, it's a form of back-room pay-for-play dealing that would seem to a third party like a form of payoff, or worse a form of bribery.

Searching the illegality of quid pro quo on the Intertubes, I came up with something called the Hobbs Act, and a website that delved into the matter:

The Hobbs Act prohibits the obstruction of commerce by extortion, which defines as “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use or actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” Hobbs Act violations based on extortion by a public official need not include proof of threat, fear, duress, or coercion. It is now established that the “under color of official right” portion of the Act is not unconstitutionally vague. What is less clear is the type of conduct which transforms a public official’s quest for campaign contributions to extortion under the Hobbs Act...

So did Bondi extort/solicit a bribe from Trump/Trump's handlers? Remember, she approached them about getting a donation while at the same time she was supposed to be investigating Trump's University as a possible rip-off scheme to separate students from their credit card balances. Bondi was supposed to represent the citizens in Florida who had their personal finances sucked up and wiped out by Trump's program.

And after Bondi's visit with Trump/Trump's people, and after getting that $25,000 campaign donation she used to win re-election in 2014, that investigation went away, which benefited Trump (up until the point where the other states digging into the scandal dropped the hammer on him).

While it's nice to see the major news outlets start paying attention to this story, they shouldn't treat it as just another one-day headliner. This is a serious matter, a potentially criminal one at that. There ought to be constant news coverage about this: Did Bondi get paid - did she ask for it - by Trump to drop a case against him?

By all rights this is a major scandal: An elected official for the state of Florida played favorites with someone under criminal investigation and had that person pay her off. And that someone under criminal investigation is now campaigning to be the highest-ranked executive of the land.

Somebody better be filing for an investigation into Bondi's lack of investigating. Somebody - it has to be someone (possibly one of Trump's victims) with standing to file - better be getting a special prosecutor at the federal level to look into this.

Bondi ought to be resigning over this. She's been caught playing favorites with lobbyists before: This is worse, direct interaction with a suspect and that suspect's organization and direct inaction failing to bring that suspect to answer to the law.

Keep beating the news drum over this, people. There's solid evidence of foul misdeeds here.

Update: Some further linkage, this time to David A. Graham over at the Atlantic. Trump's own history of bragging how he buys political favors is a key point:

...Bondi and Trump both insist that the donation had no connection with the decision not to pursue the case against Trump, and there’s no definitive proof otherwise. There is, however, the strange timing, and Trump’s past statements, in which he assured audiences that, yes, the game was rigged; yes, politicians could be bought; yes, he had done the buying; and yes, he was the only one who could fix it, since he was honest about how the game worked.
Asked about his Journal comments during the August 6, 2015, Republican primary debate in Cleveland, for example, Trump said, “You’d better believe it. If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I've given to, just so you understand, a lot of money...”

Graham's article points out the history of Trump handing out donations to key figures who just happened to be either in a position to help him into a deal or help him out of a jam, including payoffs uh donations to current Texas governor Abbott.

Trump reveled in how "the game was rigged" and how "he" could play it. Now, he's got some explaining to do, and he shouldn't get any goddamn wriggle room to lie his way out of this.


dinthebeast said...

She was probably going to drop the investigation anyway, just going by her political leanings, but Trump's response to her solicitation is quite problematic. They caught him dead to rights misusing his charitable foundation, and why he thought he needed to do it that way is, as he would say, bad optics.
My main problem with this is the media's coverage of it. I mean it is just a typical slimeball move on his part that happened to be illegal and he happened to get caught, but in the light of the negative coverage of the Clinton foundation, which actually does good things in the world, this has not received the same amount of coverage.
Perhaps that might be because it does damage to the holy both siderism the media has to uphold in order to serve this election up as a horse racy confection that enhances bottom lines. Or maybe they are just wary of making him look even more like a creep when he has been so profitable for them. Either way they are failing to uphold their end of the deal we made them when we decided to let them use our airwaves to make money.

-Doug in Oakland

dinthebeast said...

So Bondi has a history of dropping cases when she is bribed, er, receives a campaign contribution.

Also, this morning, I read a headline about her use of Mar-a-Lago for a fundraiser which described it as a "kerfuffle"...

-Doug in Oakland

Paul Wartenberg said...

This story is as much as how corrupt Bondi has been as state attorney general as much as Trump being a corrupt bastard feeding off that type of quid pro quo with willing gov't officials.

Pinku-Sensei said...

I found a funny movie poster parody about this scandal: Here Comes the Bribe. Maybe you could use it to illustrate your next entry about this instance of quid pro quo. Also, the blogger is from Florida.