“An unfortunate series of coincidences and errors”

That’s the latest spin on the Trump University/Trump Foundation/Pam Bondi scandal from the Trump campaign. I think we can all agree on “unfortunate.” Harder to believe in “coincidences” and “errors.”

Since the cable nets, the New York Times, and the Associated Press have all been too busy trying to find wrongdoing at the Clinton Foundation to cover it, and even now don’t seem to be able to get the facts straight, here they are (courtesy of CREW and the Nonprofit Quarterly:

  • Trump University fleeced students around the country.
  • Some of them complained.
  • The Attorney General of New York backed the students legally.
  • Victims in Florida asked the state AG – then and now, Pam Bondi – to do the same.
  • Bondi called Trump personally and asked for a campaign contribution.
  • The Trump Foundation issued a check for $25,000 to Bondi’s captive PAC, called “And Justice for All.”
  • Of course a foundation can’t give charitable money to a PAC. That’s illegal. Internally, the Foundation recorded having paid the money to another group called “And Justice For All,” a Utah-based disability-rights group. That group never actually received any money from the Trump Foundation.
  • When the Foundation filed its annual report with the IRS, it didn’t list the illegal contribution to Bondi’s “And Justice for All” PAC. Nor did it list the imaginary contribution to the Utah disability-rights group (which would have been legal). Instead it reported a contribution in the same amount to a Kansas-based anti-abortion group called “Justice for All,” which also never got a nickle from Trump.
  • Three days later, the Florida AG’s office announced that it would not join the lawsuit against Trump U.
  • A few months later, Trump and Rudy Giuliani headlined a fundraiser for Bondi at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, giving the campaign a bargain-basement price for the use of the space.
  • After the scandal broke, Bondi’s PAC tried to return the money, but the Foundation said “Never mind.” Trump wrote a check to the foundation as “reimbursement,” as if that made everything OK.
  • The IRS just now hit Trump with a $2500 penalty.

So, if you’re like the White Queen, and practice believing six impossible things before breakfast, you can try to believe that:

  • Bondi, when she made the fundraising call, didn’t know complaints against Trump were pending before her office, and didn’t bother to check.
  • Trump, who brags about making political contributions to buy influence, made this one entirely innocuously.
  • Trump somehow mistakenly ordered a $25,000 political contribution made illegally out of his foundation rather than writing a personal check.
  • The Trump Foundation staff coincidentally found two other groups with similar-sounding names and actual charitable status. They actually sent the check to the correct address in Florida, but mistakenly recorded it internally as having been made to the Utah group and then made a completely different mistake by reporting to the IRS a contribution to the Kansas group, in the latter case with the correct address – not, of course, the address to which the check had actually been sent – and IRS number. And all of this mere sloppiness happened to one of the foundation’s biggest disbursements of the year.

Or, if your mind is as cynically twisted as mine, you can believe instead that Bondi asked for a bribe (or made an extortionate demand), that Trump made the payoff as demanded but tried to get a tax break for it by making it out of foundation money, the Foundation staff did the best they could to cover the whole thing up, the investigation was duly killed, and Trump made the balance of the payoff (or simply indicated his gratitude) by hosting the fund-raiser.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

19 thoughts on ““An unfortunate series of coincidences and errors””

  1. Actually, what I believe is that Journolist realized that Hilary's growing image as utterly corrupt was starting to reach the point where even MSM outlets were getting antsy, and decided Trump had to be seen as just as corrupt. (Since persuading the public that Hillary wasn't corrupt is basically impossible at this point.)

    Now the talking points have been distributed, and magically the same line is popping up everywhere. Who knows, maybe it will work. But it's not Trump who desperately needs to be elected so that she can pardon herself. Hillary's legal peril is clearly worse.

    A lot depends on whether the Republicans can make the case that, while Hillary actually solicited bribes, Trump was merely paying protection money.

    1. The American party system is funded by rich people and companies giving money to politicians in the hopes of a sympathetic ear if they need it. If you are Bernie Sanders, you can call the system corrupt, and it's a strong case. I don't think it's yours. Clinton is no different from a typical Democratic or Republican politician, except that she and Bill are much better at it than most.

      A bribe requires a quo for the quid: consideration for value received. Didn't the majority in Citizens United reason so? As Mark says, prima facie Bondi solicited a bribe in exchange for dropping an investigation, and Trump paid it. The case merits proper investigation, which it obviously can't get in Florida. Josh Marshall's suggestion that Lynch should appoint a special prosecutor – presumably an old-style Republican like Comey – is a good one.

      Remember Harold's prediction: Trump will not only be defeated but disgraced.

    2. This doesn't really look like honest engagement with the facts. Are you sure this is the best you can do?

    3. It's true that Brett engages in the tu quoque fallacy here, but I bet you all have done something just as bad.

  2. Attention on items like Hillary's e-mails illustrate the relentless trend toward the trivialization of American political life and public discourse. We often hear that democratic institutions depend on having an informed electorate, but we rarely hear that they depend on having an electorate which can tell the difference between substance and minutiae. NBC pays Matt Lauer and men like him large salaries to addle the voting public with dippy non-issues and non-events, weakening our collective sense of perspective on what truly matters.

    Here is what I suggest as an example of a matter of enduring principle, which applies to this election and to all elections: voters should think twice before delivering great political power into the hands of men who show a strong urge to punish. Those who neglect this principle will not remain free or safe for long. Not having heard this principle articulated during the course of this election season, I propose that it be made a matter of discussion and debate.

    1. Oh man, I'm gonna be quoting you without attribution all over the place. After the 2116 edition of Bartlett's is published, your grandchildren will have to dig deep into the archives of SameFacts to prove that A.C. Doyle didn't come up with that aphorism. Voters should think twice before delivering great political power into the hands of men who show a strong urge to punish.

      That's great shit, brother, great shit.

      1. I am quite certain that Nietzsche said something very similar somewhere, but it has been nearly a half century since I devoured Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I had a feeling this was somewhere in the catacombs of my subconscious. Thanks to Amazon search, I found it in the chapter "On Tarantulas." Found my old German copy too. You can translate Trieb as urge, driving force, impetus, impulse, desire, liking, propensity, and get the basic idea.

        Back in high school, I wondered why anyone would bother to write anything else after Nietzsche had said it all, or why anyone would bother reading anything which had been written before. Now I can't even find my old Portable Nietzsche.

        Still needs to be said again and again before election day is upon us.

  3. White Queen, not Red Queen. "Alice Through the Looking Glass" Chapter V. Wool and Water. Of course, the White Queen also "remembered the future" by "remembering" Donald Trump:

    'That's the effect of living backwards,' the Queen said kindly: 'it always makes one a little giddy at first—'

    'Living backwards!' Alice repeated in great astonishment. 'I never heard of such a thing!'

    '—but there's one great advantage in it, that one's memory works both ways.'

    'I'm sure mine only works one way,' Alice remarked. 'I can't remember things before they happen.'

    'It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,' the Queen remarked.

    'What sort of things do you remember best?' Alice ventured to ask.

    'Oh, things that happened the week after next,' the Queen replied in a careless tone. 'For instance, now,' she went on, sticking a large piece of plaster [band-aid] on her finger as she spoke, 'there's the King's Messenger. He's in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn't even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.'

    'Suppose he never commits the crime?' said Alice.

    'That would be all the better, wouldn't it?' the Queen said, as she bound the plaster round her finger with a bit of ribbon.

    Alice felt there was no denying that. 'Of course it would be all the better,' she said: 'but it wouldn't be all the better his being punished.'

    'You're wrong there, at any rate,' said the Queen: 'were you ever punished?'

    'Only for faults,' said Alice.

    'And you were all the better for it, I know!' the Queen said triumphantly.

    'Yes, but then I had done the things I was punished for,' said Alice: 'that makes all the difference.'

    'But if you hadn't done them,' the Queen said, 'that would have been better still; better, and better, and better!' Her voice went higher with each 'better,' till it got quite to a squeak at last.

  4. There's an obvious reason why the Clinton Foundation was corrupt, but Donald's contributions to Bondi weren't. See, when Doug Band wanted to get some diplomatic passports, the State Dept turned him down. When Trump wanted Bondi to drop the Trump U investigation, she dropped the investigation. Essentially, Hillary wanted people to believe that by giving money for AIDS prevention, education and other do-goody BS, they could get special favors that didn't have anything to do with the do-goody BS. Like get a diplomatic passport to rescue journalists held prisoner in North Korea. But they couldn't! The classic bait-and-switch! It's like clicking on one of those "weird tricks" or "you can get an extra $10,000 a month in Social Security from this secret government website" thingies at the bottom of the page. Doesn't that hack you off?

    Trump, on the other hand, does not do that. Yes, he'll say he's giving stuff to charity and try to back out of it, only paying up when reporters force his hand, but that's not a bait-and-switch because anyone stupid enough to believe anything Trump says is too stupid to handle money, so they shouldn't be getting it in the first place. Yes, he stiffs contractors and creditors and forces them to go to great lengths to get paid, usually not in full, but they brought that on themselves by making a deal with such a slippery character. (Like that "Snake" song Trump likes to quote.) But, when the rubber meets the road – when it's time to get some value for his money – Trump follows through. If he says he'll give you $25,000 to drop a lawsuit, then by golly, he gives you $25,000. With Hillary, you get the quid, but not the pro quo (or vice versa). With Trump, if you have a legitimate quid, you'll get the pro quo (or vice versa).

    1. I think your characterization of Trump as an honest politician is missing the direction of the payoffs. The fact that Trump pays when he has to says nothing about his willingness to deliver services once he's been paid. (Or, for that matter, to pay when services are irrevocably delivered.)

      Although of course that could be a strong point: take money and aid from Putin to become president, then stiff him when it comes time to return a favor…

    2. Sounds like you are saying Trump meets Tammany Boss Croker's definition of an honest man: "When he is bought, he stays bought".

      Clinton only pretends to be bought, therefore is truly crooked.

      1. I've often thought that if Hillary were truly corrupt, she'd be better at it. Politicians as a breed indulge in things the more high-minded of us don't like, but don't make them worthy of special note as "corrupt." Take, for example, the all-too-common practice of wealthy businessmen letting politicians into deals for which the politician's financial resources or acumen are too meager to let them play. A former Senator from my state — not Hillary — had very little money and was often put into deals that he was too small a fry to be involved in. I'm sure the businessmen who put him into the deals were looking at least to get their phone calls answered and quite likely for specific favors. Remember Whitewater, which, after an extensive investigation conducted by a highly-motivated prosecution team, turned out to be just some rich guy putting the Clintons into a money-losing real-estate deal they were too impecunious to be involved in? Was he hoping for favors? I'd bet my paycheck on it. Did he get any? Not so far as zealous investigators were able to show. Remember the options trading scandal? The way options trading works is you buy a large number of positions, most of which finish out of the money, and once in a while you make out like a bandit. For normal investors, the best strategy is not to play at all, and Hillary had no business playing. But a guy who did know how to play, the biggest chicken raiser in Arkansas, and a man who would want favors, took some of her money and played and she made a tidy profit. Did he strictly segregate the trades according to whose money went into them — his or hers — or was Hillary just lucky? I wouldn't be surprised if the chicken tycoon "allocated" the trading results and let her take more than her fare share of the winnings, but if there was ever any evidence that Hillary asked for this or knew about this, or did him any favors later, we have yet to hear it. Someone of my refined sensibilities may regret that this sort of thing happens, but it's too common for me to yell "corruption" without some quo for the quid. Remember the billing records scandal? It happened shortly after a case of mine where a document was found, literally, in the drawer of a desk in an old furniture storage room in Kuala Lumpur when someone needed a desk. No one had any idea how it got there, and when it turned up, we produced it. Stuff like that happens all the time. Hillary's billing records turned up somewhere strange, but they corroborated her story. The e-mails? Mostly nothing, and they mostly corroborate her story, even in the face of St. Colin's denials. Stupid? Yes. A legitimate reason not to vote for her? Given a reasonable alternative candidate who is not demonstrably more corrupt and careless, yes. If, perhaps because someone decides to impose a second amendment solution, MIke Pence becomes the candidate we can talk.

        1. Maybe another way of putting this is that Hillary has been under a very unforgiving microscope for 25 years, and no one's life would look good if examined in such minute, unrelenting, insinuating detail. None of her critics could bear 1/100th of the scrutiny she's been given. The Benghazi investigations lasted longer than the investigations into 9/11. The Times' burned through more column inches investigating Benghazi than it did for Watergate, or Iran-Contra.

          If the Pope investigated Mother Theresa to the extent Hillary has been studied, he'd turn Protestant, or even atheist.

  5. I was thinking about this a little more and it truly shows that there is no honor among thieves. Because ultimately Bondi and Trump are on the same team, and they should have been willing and able to do favors for each other without such a clear nexus of offer and counter-offer. (The same thing came up during the Abramoff scandal, where people were very specifically selling their offices, and not for a whole lot.)

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