Texas Governor Linked To Trump University Fraud Case
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now more questions about Trump University and the lawsuits brought against it. The Associated Press reported this week that the attorney general of Florida solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump while her office was considering joining New York state in an investigation of Trump U.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who denies any wrongdoing, decided not to join in the New York investigation, and she also received a contribution from a Trump family foundation.
AP reporter Michael Biesecker has been looking into what happened in Florida and also in Texas, which also declined to sue. Hi. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BIESECKER: Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: Let's start with Florida. What happened there, and when?
BIESECKER: Well, in 2013, Pam Bondi - the attorney general's office was quoted by the Orlando Sentinel as saying they were reviewing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's proposed lawsuit against Trump University to determine whether Florida should join that multi-state case. Four days after that appeared in the newspaper, Bondi's campaign account notes that it received a $25,000 check from the Trump Foundation, the family foundation of Donald Trump.
SIEGEL: And as for joining New York state?
BIESECKER: Bondi's office took no action. What I guess is new about this in the last week is that her spokesman acknowledged to the Associated Press that she personally solicited that donation in a phone call with Donald Trump.
SIEGEL: Now, Florida Attorney General Bondi, who is a strong Trump supporter, said this to a Miami Herald reporter yesterday. (Reading) I never, nor was my office, investigating him, never. I would never lie. I would never take money. I've been obviously devastated over this.
To your knowledge, was her office actually considering joining the New York suit?
BIESECKER: As opposed to New York and Texas, it does appear that Florida did not have any sort of robust investigation of Trump University despite more than 20 customer complaints. What they said to the Orlando Sentinel in 2013 was that they were reviewing whether to join the New York suit. And Bondi - you know, she's trying to parse between deliberating, investigating or reviewing and the separate meanings of those words.
SIEGEL: You mentioned Texas, and you've reported about the decision of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who's now the governor, to drop a proposed lawsuit there over Trump U in 2010. What happened in Texas?
BIESECKER: Well, in Texas, public records obtained by the Associated Press show that there was a very robust investigation of Trump University and that lawyers in Abbott's own Consumer Affairs Division proposed suing Trump and his associates for about $5.4 million in fines and restitution back to their alleged victims. The case files show that they spent more than a year investigating Trump University, had what they considered very strong evidence that Trump University had violated numerous state laws and was operating in the state without a license.
Ultimately, people above the Consumer Affairs Division decided not to take action. Abbott denies that he knew of his agency's investigation or that he decided to drop the suit. What AP has reported is that three years later when he ran for governor of Texas, Mr. Trump put forward two checks to his campaign totaling $35,000.
SIEGEL: You can't demonstrate a quid pro quo here that either in the Texas or the Florida case somebody said, you drop the case; I give you money.
BIESECKER: We can't, but the former deputy chief of consumer protection of Texas, a man named John Owens, stepped forward and was quoted in local media there saying that he believes the case was dropped for political considerations because Mr. Trump was a donor of Republican causes.
SIEGEL: In Florida, the contribution that was made was from the Trump Family Foundation. That seems a very unusual way of making a campaign contribution.
BIESECKER: Well, and it's actually against the law. You're not supposed to have charities giving to political activities. Bondi says that they've tried to give that money back, the Trump Family Foundation apparently refused to take the money back, and there's some vagary about whether that money has been returned or whether she still has it.
SIEGEL: Michael Biesecker, thanks a lot for talking with us.
BIESECKER: Thank you. It was good to be with you.
SIEGEL: Reporter Michael Biesecker of the Associated Press has reported on the lawsuits against Trump University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.