WASHINGTON (CBSMiami/AP) — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his campaign are trying to distance themselves from a campaign contribution his charity made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who was seeking re-election.
Trump has admitted that he spoke to Bondi before his charity gave her campaign the check, , but his campaign said Tuesday the two never discussed whether her office would join a lawsuit against Trump University.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks clarified details of the conversation one day after the Republican presidential candidate said he never spoke to Bondi about the issue, without providing specifics. Bondi, also a Republican, has endorsed Trump's White House bid.
"I never spoke to her, first of all, she's a fine person beyond reproach," Trump said Monday. "Never spoken to her about it. Never. Many of the AGs turned that case down because I'll win that case in court, many turned that down. ... I just have a lot of respect for her and she's very popular."
Bondi's spokesman told The Associated Press in June that she personally solicited the $25,000 donation from Trump during a 2013 phone call. The Donald J. Trump Foundation check arrived just days after Bondi's office told a newspaper it was deliberating whether to join a proposed multi-state lawsuit against Trump University and Trump Institute, businesses that offered real-estate seminars that scores of former students allege were get-rich-quick scams.
Florida didn't join the lawsuit filed by New York's attorney general.
Trump has said in the past that he expects and receives favors from politicians to whom he gives money.
Bondi has said the timing of Trump's $25,000 donation was coincidental and said she wasn't personally aware of the numerous consumer complaints her office had received about the Trump-owned Trump University and the Trump Institute, a separate Florida business that licensed the Trump name and curriculum. Both had ceased operations by the time Bondi took office in early 2011.
Alan Garten, the in-house counsel for Trump's business interests, also denied there were any connection between the donation and the fact that Bondi didn't pursue claims on behalf of Florida residents then seeking refunds from Trump.
"Trump University students received quality coursework and substantial value in return," Garten said.
Charities are barred by law from supporting political activities. Hicks said Tuesday that the improper foundation check was the result of a series of clerical errors, and that the billionaire businessman had intended to support Bondi with personal funds.
The Trump Foundation on its 2013 tax return then incorrectly reported that the $25,000 was paid not to the pro-Bondi political group, but to a similarly named charity in Kansas that got no Trump money.
The Washington Post first reported last week that Trump's charity paid an IRS penalty of $2,500 earlier this year, following media reports about the impermissible 2013 donation. It was not clear immediately whether the foundation has yet amended its tax returns to correct the reporting error.
"Mr. Trump paid the fine," Hicks told the AP. "All is squared away."
Neither Hicks nor Garten could provide specific answers to when the IRS fine was paid, on what date the 2013 call between Bondi and Trump occurred, or what the two discussed, if not Trump University.
"I don't think this was a lengthy, memorable call," Hicks said. "Mr. Trump talks to a hundred people in any given day. So, I don't know if I will be able to provide that information. That's not exactly a realistic or reasonable request."
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