Pam Bondi, Florida’s first female attorney general, announced in 2013 that she was considering an investigation into the fraudulent scheme called “Trump University,” a scam that defrauded dozens of Florida residents who had filed complaints with her office.
Shortly after Bondi announced she was opening the investigation, she asked Donald Trump for a campaign “donation.” Trump had his daughter Ivanka write Bondi a check for $500. Bondi was assured that more would be coming. Within four days, a pro-Bondi political action committee got a $25,000 check drawn on the Trump Foundation’s account. And the state attorney general promptly announced that she was no longer investigating the fraud.
Trump University did get shut down, however. That was a result of an investigation by another state attorney general, in New York. Millions of dollars Trump had suckered students into paying for their fake “university” educations were returned under a federal court-supervised process.
Recall that this was the case about which Trump complained that the federal judge hearing it was a “Mexican” and of course was biased against him. The judge’s parents had emigrated from Mexico; the judge himself was born in Indiana. But of course Trump’s claim was just a sideshow to deflect attention from the fraud itself. It was also meant as a distraction from the fact that Trump was being forced to return the money to his victims: one thing Trump hates to do above all else. How could poor Donald Trump get a fair trial from a “Mexican” judge? Besides, where would he find the time to litigate while he was busy running for president?
Several thousand defrauded students accepted a total of $25 million. They didn’t get back all of their money but decided to take an estimated 90 cents on the dollar—a bit poorer and maybe a lot wiser. I doubt any of them, or any of the thousands of small business owners and workers Trump has stiffed and defrauded over so many years would ever vote for him, but who knows? Maybe, despite having been cheated, some still believe he’s the “Chosen One.”
But this unsavory business in Florida gets worse. The check to the pro-Bondi PAC, an obvious bribe, was drawn on The Trump Foundation. Like Trump’s “University,” his foundation has also been shut down for its many corrupt and criminal acts. Those went way beyond this one bribe.
I use the word “bribe” quite deliberately. It’s the kind of thing Trump has done all his life: paying off politicians in exchange for whatever he’s trying to do that needs government permission. Or in exchange for stopping whatever he’s trying to prevent the government from doing.
I’m going to tell you more about Pam Bondi and what I’m calling the Florida Mafia but first I want to tell you a short story about a similar payoff. This, too, is a story about a Trump bribe and a compromised prosecutor. This one is from New York City. But it has a different ending. In fact, it’s a story that’s still being written.
I’m sure many of you, whether you support Trump or oppose him, have never heard about the Manhattan District Attorney’s near-prosecution of Ivanka and Donald Jr. If you have, you probably don’t know the details. And for no one is it truer than Donald Trump that the devil is always in the details. The Trump children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, were cutting their teeth on Trump Soho, a failing and ultimately failed development in Lower Manhattan. At the time, they were still grifters in training. To induce prospective buyers to make hefty down payments, they had wildly inflated the sales figures for Trump Soho. That was one of several felony counts on which career prosecutors were preparing an indictment.
The prosecutors had e-mails that made it clear that Ivanka and Junior knew they were using bogus sales numbers. Junior even assured a worried real estate broker that nobody but people inside the Trump Organization would ever discover those incriminating e-mails.
Some defrauded buyers brought a lawsuit. This civil case came to the attention of the career prosecutors. They were preparing to present a criminal case to a Manhattan Grand Jury. Indictments were certain to follow.
And then, one of Trump’s legions of lawyers, a fellow named Marc Kasowitz, appeared on the scene. By now, Donald Jr. and Ivanka were already represented by a team of experienced criminal defense lawyers. Kasowitz had no such experience. But he didn’t need it. Instead, he gave $25,000 to the reelection campaign of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., making him one of Vance’s largest donors. Vance agreed to meet with Kasowitz. That meeting was highly unusual in a case where high-level career prosecutors were handling the case.
I know how this kind of thing works. I spent a few years early in my career as a trial lawyer in Manhattan for New York’s Legal aid Society, then as an appeals bureau prosecutor in the Queens district attorney’s office. As a member of his staff, I met with the Queens DA many times. But as a defense lawyer, I met with Manhattan’s DA exactly one time: when I was invited with a group of Legal Aid lawyers to a Christmas Party.
Defense lawyers, let alone fake defense lawyers, rarely, if ever get to meet with the district attorney to talk about a case. Not in New York City. So let me put it as crudely as Donald Trump or Marc Kasowitz would put it. In the case of Ivanka and Junior, and in all dealings with anyone named Trump, the old adage was very much at work: money talks and bullshit walks.
Just before the Kasowitz meeting, Vance returned that $25,000. Nevertheless, he overruled career prosecutors and dropped the case, saying he didn’t think he could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So that took care of the criminal case.
The civil case was over by then, too. The defrauded buyers already had agreed to drop their lawsuit. They had gotten 90 percent of their money returned and their attorney’s fees paid, and had signed an unprecedented agreement not to cooperate with the district attorney unless forced to testify by a subpoena. Why not agree? They just wanted their money back. Well, what was wrong with that? After all, Vance did return the money.
But then, less than six months after the money was returned and the case was dropped, Kasowitz made an even bigger donation to Vance’s campaign. He and twenty of his law firm’s partners and employees kicked in more than $50,000. In the course of investigating the facts more than four years later, the “Vanity Fair” magazine reporters who wrote about this case asked Vance about the subsequent Kasowitz donations. Vance told them he planned to return that second round of contributions, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the [district attorney’s] office,” he said.
Kasowitz: “I donated to Cy Vance’s campaign because I was and remain extremely impressed by him as a person of impeccable integrity, as a brilliant lawyer and as a public servant with creative ideas and tremendous ability.” Bullshit not only walks; it talks.
Come on, people. Are you really going to let these Trump fraudsters get away with insulting your intelligence like this because you love the president’s personality? Or is it because you hate liberals so much that you’ll gladly cut off your noses to spite your faces? And your children’s noses, too? Or because your “faith leaders” assure you Trump is the Chosen One? (While, of course, they are raking in the cash right along with him.)
In any case, Donald Jr. and Ivanka narrowly escaped indictment. Presumably, Cyrus Vance Jr., returned the second tranche of donations and learned a painful lesson: don’t go anywhere near anybody named Trump—with the exception of Mary Trump—looking for a deal. Vance only had to put his hand on that hot stove once. He’s now actively investigating the Trump Organization for bank fraud, tax fraud, and who knows how many other felonies. If the courts hurry up, though it’s doubtful, maybe we’ll see an indictment before the election. So all in all I’ll accept the fact that Vance has repented and should be forgiven. Far more experienced men than he have been suckered by a Trump scam and subsequent bribe.
The great danger of Donald Trump is not that he is corrupt—though of course he is—but that he has been found out by the majority of Americans and is now seeking to end politics rather than be held accountable.
Ironically, whichever side of the ideological divide you’re on, Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” resonated strongly. Putting aside all other issues of race and class, one essential difference among Americans who care is that some believed Trump meant it and others knew he didn’t. Obviously, we Fed Up New Yorkers know him best and we knew he didn’t mean it. Many other Americans knew him only through his reality show on television, where he was presented as, and played the role of, a wildly successful business tycoon. How could they know?
So when Trump sold himself as a non-politician who promised to drain the swamp, you may have believed him. We all know that it takes a big man or woman to admit error. With Fox News and other conservative media continuing to drive home Trump’s messaging, it’s that much harder to know what’s really going on. And with all their excellent reporting on the undeniably corrupt transactions he and so many of his appointees were carrying out, much of the media missed the opportunity to explain to readers and viewers how narrowly they were using the word, “politician.”
Notwithstanding that Trump had never been elected to office, in a broader sense he has been a corrupt politician all his adult life. He bribed many elected officials and their appointees, just as his father had done. Most were Democrats, because in New York City they were the only ones who could give him what he paid for. These bribes were notorious even for New York. He created more than 100 corporations to skirt campaign finance laws. These paper corporations, though all controlled by one man, were each able to donate the maximum political dollars under New York law. Why wasn’t that loophole closed? Because the only people who could close it were the ones getting the pay-to-play proceeds. And Trump was getting what he wanted: zoning variances, tax breaks, and so forth. Nobody else came close to that level of corruption. We’ll say this for him: Donald Trump has always thought big.
Trump may have grumbled to himself that he wasn’t paying bribes; he was being extorted. And that is certainly one way to look at those payoffs. But again, no matter how they are viewed, these pay-to-play transactions are the cornerstone of corrupt politics—the swamp Trump promised America he would drain.
We needn’t be overly concerned with legal nuances. Whether it’s best viewed as extortion or bribery is a distinction of most interest to prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers. To the participants—at least those like Trump who aren’t small store owners paying protection money to thugs—how these payoffs are viewed depends on which side of the table they’re sitting.
We know now—or we should—that rather than a non-politician seeking to drain the swamp, Trump was a very experienced politician. He simply wanted to move to the other side of the table: to become a payee rather than a payer.
Easily the most corrupt president in our history, he and Jared Kushner, the family bag man, are raking in cash at levels that would have been unfathomable, even accounting for inflation, even to the legendary Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall. Tweed had only a local market, a big one to be sure. But for for a president? Ah, now the world is Donald Trump’s oyster.
But now back to Florida. Pam Bondi took a different path. The Trump University fraud was her big chance and corruption is how she rolls. Several years after she had dropped her investigation, an Internal Revenue Service examination of the Trump Foundation’s books turned up that $25,000 payment to Bondi’s campaign. It had been disguised as a payment to a Kansas anti-abortion group called “Justice for all.” To settle that little matter, Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty and refunded the $25,000 to the Trump Foundation from his personal bank account.
Apparently Bondi got to keep her money. The lap-dog loyal Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s mouthpieces and advisors, said the illegal foundation payment was “an unfortunate series of coincidences and errors.” Moreover, Trump and Bondi all claimed that the two had been friends for years. Hicks backed them up. Though nobody remembers or can point to any time they had ever met before 2013.
According to press reports, in 2010 Trump also had pressured Greg Abbot, the Texas attorney general, to drop a similar investigation into Trump University. Three years later, Trump contributed $35,000 to Abbott’s campaign for governor. Now, of course, Abbott is governor and is one of Trump’s most reliable sycophants.
I don’t have the time, need or inclination to research this aspect of the Pam Bondi saga any further except to note that she was and is a staunch opponent of Obamacare; that she is a vicious, lock-up-the-children-at-the-border immigration hawk; and she is a passionate NRA supporter who urged courts to strike down the law banning the sale of handguns to people ages 18 to 20.
Aside from but closely connected to her relationship with Trump, the most important aspect of Bondi’s career might have been the legal brief she filed supporting the American Farm Bureau in its effort to kill the plan to clean up the waters of Chesapeake Bay. This has nothing to do with Florida. But taking that position caught the attention, and put her squarely on the side, of high-powered corporate lobbyists outside of Florida. That in turn paved the way for the next step of her career, as a Washington lobbyist for some very bad characters.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bondi checked all the boxes for Donald Trump. He recognized a good thing: a good-looking, young, blonde woman eager to take his money and join the team of Trump loyalists. Loyalists, in this case, meaning political whores, both men and women, who yearned to be madams.
Trump hired Bondi directly. She became part of Trump’s Impeachment defense team. When that gig ended, she joined Trump’s Florida Mafia. This isn’t a reference to Italian mobsters, though Trump and his father Fred had plenty of dealings with them in New York, but to a “family” of Floridians. Their role is to serve as a conduit between Trump and the people who bribe him—and/or those he extorts.
In Part 2 of this tale, we’ll tell you all about the Florida Mafia and how they and Trump are threatening you and your family in ways you don’t know and have never imagined. It’s as ugly as it gets.
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