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Pam Bondi defends decision to take money from Donald Trump

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Attorney General Pam Bondi forcefully denied wrongdoing Tuesday in connection with a $25,000 campaign contribution from Donald Trump’s foundation after her office received complaints about Trump University.

“I would never trade any campaign donation — that’s absurd — for some type of favor to anyone,” Bondi said during a frequently testy exchange with news reporters outside her Capitol office.

“He donated to multiple candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike,” she said.

Why not return the money when critics questioned its propriety?

“If I had returned it, you would have been reporting: Bondi accepted a bribe, got caught and returned it. That’s how reporting goes,” Bondi said.

“There was nothing improper about it,” she said of the donation. “So there was no need to return it.”

And she rejected suggestions the controversy would force her from office.

“Absolutely not,” Bondi said.

“I am proud to be attorney general, and I have two years before I’m termed out. I’ve always wanted to be attorney general. I’m a career prosecutor. I’m very, very proud of the work we’ve done.”

Democrats and other critics indeed have characterized the donation as a bribe from Trump to Bondi to shelve any investigation of Trump University, now the subject of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over alleged fraud.

Bondi insisted her office fielded a single complaint against Trump University during her tenure and declined to prosecute in 2011. Trump made the donation through his foundation in 2013.

Bondi said news organizations were getting the story wrong.

“I’m not saying any of you were malicious,” but it was misreported that her office had declined to join Schneiderman’s case, she said. In fact, she continued: “No other AG in the entire country has joined Gen. Schneiderman’s suit — nor were they asked to.”

New York, where Trump U was headquartered, was the proper venue for any legal action, Bondi said.

She now wishes she’d “personally sat down with each of you and shown you all the documents that explained it to you myself,” she said.

Has the affair damaged her credibility?

“I hope not,” Bondi said. “I hope people look at the great things we’ve done. We’ve fought pill mills from Day 1. We’re fighting synthetic drugs. I’m obsessed now with fentanyl and heroin coming into this country.

“I hope you can continue to report the things that we are doing that are helping children. Cybercrimes are a horrible, horrible issue now. And on Oct. 10, we’re having a human trafficking conference,” she said.

“I hate that this is taking away from all the things that we can be doing to help people.”

She outlined her relationship with Trump. “I met him before I was AG. I think I actually met him in college, but I didn’t know him well then at all.”

Later, Trump contacted her after she got press for a murder case she prosecuted and the relationship developed from there. She’s friends with two of Trump’s children, she said.

The donation happened like this: “I was calling friends and family and many, many people because I was running for re-election.”

Again, why not return the money, a reporter asked Bondi.

“Because Donald Trump was not under investigation in Florida,” she replied. “Mark Hamilton, a staff attorney, had handled that back in 2011.”

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Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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