It was the personally signed $25,000 check that landed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in hot water—the check that sparked accusations that he had bribed Florida’s top prosecutor, Pam Bondi, with funds from his charity.
Much has been written about the suspicious timing of Trump’s 2013 gift to the Florida attorney general’s political campaign. But contrary to previous claims from Trump’s presidential campaign and company executives, new records acquired by The Daily Beast show that Trump Organization employees were explicitly told this was a donation to a political group, and emails show that Trump’s own executive assistant had met in person with Bondi’s finance director in New York City.
In its 2018 case against the Trump Foundation, the New York attorney general noted how Trump broke the law by using his charity to fund Bondi’s political group. And the charity was ultimately dissolved after a state judge found Trump had “breached his fiduciary duty” to the charity in other ways, behavior that the AG’s office called a “shocking pattern of illegality.”
The donation occurred just as Bondi was supposed to be considering joining New York’s investigation of the Trump University scam. And Trump himself got off easy. His campaign and foundation executives chalked it up to a mistake. The nonprofit didn’t realize it was a political group, the campaign told The Wall Street Journal. An ignorant company clerk hadn’t known, otherwise “we would have taken it out of [Trump’s] own personal account,” Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg told The Washington Post.
The conversation is laid out in an email exchanged on Aug. 28, 2013 between Bondi campaign finance director Deborah Ramsey Aleksander and Trump’s long-serving executive assistant, Rhona Graff.
Aleksander provided Graff with the name and federal tax identification number for “And Justice for All,” a political action committee associated with Ms. Bondi’s re-election campaign. Aleksander described it as an “ECO,” which stands for “Electioneering Communications Organization.”
“Again, it was a pleasure meeting you today!!! Thanks again for always being so responsive and wonderful to work with.” Aleksander wrote to Graff. “Let Mr. Trump know that we are SO VERY thankful for his commitment of 25k and If he wants to make it 50k, that’s perfectly acceptable. :) Seriously, thanks again for everything!!!”
In a subsequent email sent exactly two weeks later on Sept. 11, 2013, Aleksander mentioned their previous meeting in New York City and provided Graff with a copy of And Justice for All’s Internal Revenue Service W-9 form, which lists the group’s “federal tax classification” as a “political organization.”
Two days later, Trump sent Bondi the check with a signed letter that misspelled her name as “Pam Biondi” and read, “Dear Pam: You are the greatest!”
The signed check to the political group was issued from The Donald J. Trump Foundation, Inc., a tax-exempt nonprofit regulated by Section 501(c)(3) of U.S. tax code—which prohibits political donations by charities.
The Daily Beast showed these documents to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that filed the initial complaint that exposed this entire ordeal. Jordan Libowitz, the CREW communications director who led this project, called the emails “a smoking gun.”
“It kind of blows up their whole story,” Libowitz said. “The Trump Organization staffers knew they were making this political donation. There are no questions about it. There is no ambiguity.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about the matter on Wednesday. Bondi, who is now listed as a partner at the Washington offices of the lobbying firm Ballard Partners, did not respond to a request for comment, neither did Aleksander, who lists herself as an independent fundraising consultant for Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).
The emails obtained by The Daily Beast also cast doubt on another explanation given by the Trump Organization when this matter came under public scrutiny in 2016.
At the time, finance executives claimed that a series of blunders allowed the funds to be drawn from the Trump Foundation and led to the charity incorrectly identifying the recipient on annual tax forms submitted to the IRS.
According to the Trump Organization, a clerk erred by using an outdated list of charities to identify a non-political nonprofit in Utah also called “And Justice for All.” And staff made another mistake when they tallied up donations on the charity’s 990 tax form and listed yet another nonprofit in Kansas called “Justice for All.”
But these emails show that Bondi’s campaign staff twice provided the Trump Organization the correct group’s Federal Employer Identification Number, which does not match the Utah or Kansas nonprofits.
“I don’t understand how you could be this sloppy, even for people working for Donald Trump,” Libowitz said.
The check was dated Sept. 9, 2013, nearly two weeks after Trump company staff were told that the group was related to electioneering. The check appeared to be cut two days before Bondi’s campaign sent over the IRS form, but it was still sent anyway.
The ordeal revealed how the Trump Foundation was essentially an empty vessel that relied entirely on the staff at the for-profit Trump Organization. To get answers about how the check was erroneously cut from the charity, for example, New York Attorney General investigators had to question Jeff McConney, a high-ranking accountant at the Trump Organization. During a confidential 2017 interview, McConney told an investigator he “probably didn't know at that time that we probably shouldn't be using foundation funds for this type of thing.”
“We made a mistake,” McConney said.
The emails between the Trump Organization and the Bondi campaign were obtained by The Daily Beast via a public records request to the New York Attorney General, which has conducted multiple investigations into Trump corporate entities over the years.
Under Eric T. Schneiderman in 2016, that office helped win a $25 million class action settlement from Trump University after the for-profit school was caught duping wannabe entrepreneurs and squeezing cash out of students seeking to learn Trump’s “art of the deal.” Then, in 2018, under Barbara D. Underwood, the office got the Trump Foundation to dissolve itself in the aftermath of a fishy fundraiser for veterans that got caught holding back donations and supporting his own political campaign.
Now, in 2021, current Attorney General Letitia James has teamed up with the Manhattan district attorney to indict the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, for criminal tax fraud. That case is ongoing.
As for the check itself, Bondi reportedly tried to return the donation—but that was rejected. She never did investigate Trump University, and a local prosecutor in Florida cleared her of wrongdoing.
Months after she left office in 2019, she joined the Trump team fighting his impeachment.