Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ended weeks of silence Tuesday and defended her acceptance of a $25,000 campaign contribution from Donald Trump while her office reviewed a consumer complaint about Trump University’s real estate seminars.
At a press conference at the Capitol, Bondi said she had no regrets about taking Trump’s money because her office had “no investigation” when she sought the contribution in August 2013.
“I just knew there was nothing improper,” Bondi said. “I will never let money from anyone affect what I do. I’m proud of my office. I’m proud of the work that we do.”
The Republican attorney general, a supporter of Trump and a former Tampa prosecutor, has been under an intense political and media microscope for months for having solicited a donation from Trump in 2013.
Bondi has repeatedly ignored requests that she explain how her office handled the Trump controversy. She said Tuesday her only regret was not meeting with reporters earlier to discuss an array of Trump-related documents released by her office that lay out the Trump University chronology.
“I would never, ever trade any campaign donation. That’s absurd, for some type of favor to anyone,” Bondi said.
Giving back the contribution also was never seriously considered, she said.
“If I had returned it, you would have reported, ‘Bondi accepted bribe, got caught, and returned it,’ ” she said. “There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return it.”
Bondi said she sought a donation from Trump in the summer of 2013 as she called a wide circle of friends while running for re-election. She said she met Trump before she became attorney general, and that it likely was in New York City.
“That’s probably when I met him, in New York, because I was often on Fox News,” Bondi said.
Bondi’s office in April released more than 9,000 pages of internal emails and consumer complaints beginning in 2008, three years before she took office.
Documents show that her staff knew of complaints against Trump University from her first weeks in office in 2011, and that her top two advisers — her chief of staff and deputy attorney general — knew of them in August 2013, two months before Bondi says she first learned about them.
In his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has boasted of his power to call in favors from politicians in exchange for campaign contributions. But he said he never asked Bondi for help and that they never discussed Trump University.
In an interview with the Herald/Times before Tuesday’s press conference, Bondi said she did not even know that a “Trump University” existed until the controversy began to consume her office.
Bondi scoffed at calls by news outlets for a federal investigation of her conduct, including from the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. The two-term attorney general has been mocked in political cartoons and accused of “bribery” by Democrats in Congress, who have asked the Department of Justice to investigate.
Bondi said her citizen services unit, the entry point for consumer complaints, has received about 800,000 calls, letters and emails since she took office in 2011.
She said she asked her chief deputy, Trish Conners, to review the volume of other consumer complaints on file in her office on Monday, “to put it in perspective.”
Bondi disclosed more than a dozen complaints against the Tampa Bay Times involving what she called unfair billing, debt collection and advertising issues, and that none of those ever reached her desk, either.
“Those were all handled on a staff level,” Bondi said. “That’s how it gets handled.”
Asked if she felt her credibility is “shot” with Floridians, Bondi said: “I hope not,” and she dismissed a suggestion that she consider resigning from office.
Bondi, 50, has more than two years left as attorney general. She reiterated Tuesday that she won’t run for elective office again.
“I’ve always said I only want to be attorney general,” Bondi said.
Herald/Times staff writer Michael Auslen contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @stevebousquet.