Not enough evidence found for Bondi, Trump bribery complaint
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A bribery complaint against President Donald Trump and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi lacks enough evidence to move forward, a state prosecutor told the governor Thursday.
The complaint filed by a Massachusetts attorney stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation near the same time that her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott handed the case to a southwest Florida prosecutor after another prosecutor said he could not investigate the case because Bondi used to work him.
A prosecutor working in State Attorney Stephen Russell’s office concluded that there is no reasonable suspicion that Trump or Bondi broke Florida’s bribery law.
Amira Fox, the chief assistant state attorney, said in a memo about the case that the complaint against Bondi was “insufficient on its face to conduct a criminal investigation” and was based almost entirely on media coverage.
“The majority of the complaint consists of insinuation without any material evidence in support,” Fox wrote.
Fox added that although a campaign contribution could be viewed as a type of bribe, there was no evidence that Bondi asked for the money in exchange for any official act.
J. Whitfield Larrabee, who has filed numerous complaints against Bondi, questioned the scope of the investigation. He said there was no evidence in the memo that prosecutors spoke to any witnesses. Larrabee called Russell’s decision to drop the case “a gutless move that was politically motivated.”
Bondi, who endorsed Trump’s bid for president right before the Florida Republican primary, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and defended her decision to accept the contribution. Recent frequent trips to Washington have stirred media speculation that she might wind up taking a job in the Trump administration.
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. But the issue flared back to life last summer amid media coverage of Trump’s presidential campaign and news that his foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS over the donation. Whitfield filed his complaint last August.
Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time Bondi took office in 2011, more than 20 complaints had been filed by former students who claimed they were swindled.
A judge last week approved an agreement for the president to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits over Trump University, ending nearly seven years of legal battles with customers who claimed they were misled by failed promises to teach success in real estate.
The Associated Press reported last June that Bondi personally asked Trump for help for her 2014 re-election. She has said she turned to him 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 of that year.
But by that time, emails show that top officials in her office — including her chief of staff — were being asked by reporters in Florida about a lawsuit against Trump University by the New York attorney general.
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. 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 October 2013 donation from Trump.
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.
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