Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University.
"I never spoke to her, first of all; she's a fine person beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She's a fine person. Never spoken to her about it. Never," Trump said Monday while speaking to reporters in Ohio. "Many of the attorney generals turned that case down because I'll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her."
The $25,000 gift, paid by the Donald J. Trump Foundation, violated federal rules that prohibit charities from making donations to political candidates. Trump and his team also failed to disclose the large gift to the Internal Revenue Service, instead reporting that the donation was given to an unrelated group with a similar name - effectively obscuring the contribution.
Bondi ultimately decided not to open an investigation against Trump's embattled for-profit education business.
Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year after reports surfaced about the gift and disclosure error. Representatives for the Trump Organization said that Trump reimbursed the foundation the full $25,000 from his own accounts after watchdog groups and news organizations began asking questions. The Trump business said it had taken all necessary steps to correct the errors.
Asked by reporters what he expected to receive in return for his donation, Trump said that he and Bondi have known each other for years.
"I have a lot of respect for her. Never spoke to her about that at all. I just have a lot of respect for her and she's very popular," he said.
Trump's assertion contradicts statements made to the Associated Press by Marc Reichelderfer - who worked as a consultant on Bondi's reelection effort - that suggested Bondi spoke with Trump and solicited the donation directly. Reichelderfer told the AP at the time that Bondi had not been aware of the complaints against Trump University when she solicited the contribution.
But the timeline has emboldened Trump's critics to accuse him of making a political bribe. The pro-Bondi organization received the donation just four days after her office said it was considering joining New York state in investigating complaints against the for-profit education business.
Trump University is at the center of several lawsuits by former "students" who have accused the business of making misleading promises. Trump also faced intense scrutiny when he attacked a Hispanic federal judge overseeing a pair of cases against Trump University, at one point insisting the judge's ethnicity made him biased against Trump and therefore unable to hear the cases fairly.