January 06, 2017

Florida Attorney General Diaz? Miami lawmaker rumored as post-Bondi appointment

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@PatriciaMazzei

If Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi takes a job, as expected, in President-elect Donald Trump's White House, Gov. Rick Scott will get to appoint her successor. Could he be a Miami state legislator?

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz's name has been making the rounds in Tallahassee as a potential Scott pick. Diaz, who will turn 37 later this month, would bring youth and diversity to Scott's Cabinet -- and perhaps give Republicans a leg up to keep the seat. Diaz said he'd be eager to run for the powerful attorney general's post in 2018, at the end of Bondi's term.

"I'm definitely honored to be on those lists," Diaz told the Miami Herald on Friday, adding that "it would be hard not to" seriously consider the job.

Even if Bondi weren't to leave the AG's office, Diaz said he's thinking about seeking the position in two years, when he will be term-limited from the House. He was easily reelected to his western Miami-Dade County seat in November.

"It's something that I've looked at pretty aggressively the past few years," he said. "I knew that, no matter what, whether there was a Trump appointment or not, the General was term-limited in 2018 -- so I've been looking at it as an option regardless of whether she goes to D.C. or not."

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Bondi will get a White House position, though Bondi refused to confirm that Friday.

An attorney with the Akerman law firm, Diaz, who is known as Pepi, is a litigator in zoning and land-use matters, though he said he's had exposure to a "pretty varied" slew of cases, ranging from criminal defense to family law.

"I'm a real lawyer. I've been practicing now for the better part of my adult life," he said. "I went to law school to, you know, study comparative constitutions and the way the government interacted with laws, so that's a dream job for a kid like me."

Diaz is close friends with state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a fellow Miami Republican who was a top South Florida Trump surrogate. Trump's transition team is considering Trujillo for an ambassadorship to Latin America. 

While Diaz was not quite as involved in the campaign as Trujillo, he did also lend his name to a Trump Hispanic advisory board (Diaz is a past competitor on "The Apprentice" who has known Trump since.) Both lawmakers plan to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press. Diaz appears on the left.

December 14, 2016

Will Pam Bondi be at Trump's Orlando rally? Attorney general's office won't say

@MichaelAuslen

TP_405699_ELLI_0403_trumpsp (3)Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is again bucking public attention and keeping her whereabouts secret.

Her office ignored emails sent Monday requesting to know whether Bondi, a significant statewide elected official and the second in the line of succession to the governor's office, planned to attend President-elect Donald Trump's Friday rally in Orlando. 

A longtime political ally and friend, Bondi played a major role in Trump's Florida campaign, appearing at many of his events here to rally support. Gov. Rick Scott's office confirmed he will attend Friday's "thank you" event at 7 p.m. at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

It is likely Bondi would be in attendance. The career prosecutor is seen as a likely Trump appointee to any number of roles, including White House "drug czar" or a sub-cabinet position in the Department of Justice.

This is the second time in a month that the attorney general's office has kept quiet about Bondi's schedule. She missed the Legislature's largely ceremonial organizational session -- the only member of the Florida Cabinet to do so -- and her office ignored three requests for her whereabouts.

Photo: Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi walk to meet supporters just before a Tampa rally on Aug. 24. (Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times)

December 06, 2016

Pam Bondi tight-lipped about leaving AG's office for Trump White House job

@MichaelAuslen

NYT_TRUMP_TRANSITION_22Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said Tuesday she is "not prepared to answer" whether she will finish the remaining two years of her term in office.

A close ally and friend of President-elect Donald Trump, Bondi is rumored to be under consideration for a top job in his administration. She went to New York last Friday, where she met with Trump but would not confirm what the two discussed.

"I'm not going to confirm or deny anything right now," Bondi said Tuesday following a meeting of the Florida Cabinet. "Frankly, I don't think anyone should come out of those meetings and talk about anything that was said in those meetings. ... I think all of that is and should remain confidential until the appropriate time."

She is seen as a contender for "drug czar," a deputy or assistant attorney general post or an advisory position inside the White House. If she were offered, accepted and confirmed to any of those jobs, Bondi would have to leave office. Her term is set to expire Jan. 8, 2019. She is term-limited.

Following Trump's Nov. 8 electoral win, Bondi was appointed to his transition team. She said that has involved conversations with the president-elect and weighing in on potential appointees for administration jobs but would not provide further details.

But, Bondi warned, the common wisdom may not be a good reflection of the actual happenings at Trump Tower.

"For what it's worth, I think when people go and do interviews on TV and talk about things, I think they probably don't know what's going on up there," she said.

Bondi says the transition work has not interfered with her job as attorney general.

After being notably absent for the largely ceremonial organizational session of the Legislature (the other Cabinet officials and Gov. Rick Scott were in attendance), Bondi has not shied from the limelight the past two days.

On Monday, she attended Scott's holiday reception at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee, and she was on hand Tuesday morning for the traditional lighting of a Christmas tree in the Capitol.

Photo: The New York Times.

December 02, 2016

Bondi sits down with Trump

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via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi is at Trump Tower this afternoon for her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.

She entered the building about 12:49 p.m. and breezed past reporters without comment.

As of 2:11 p.m., she had not emerged from the elevators.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

December 01, 2016

Bondi to meet with Trump on Friday

@MichaelAuslen and @VeraMBergen

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, rumored to be in the running for a job in Donald Trump's administration, is scheduled to meet with the president-elect Friday.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller announced the scheduled meeting in a Thursday morning conference call, according to reporters who were on the call.

It is planned for 1 p.m. in Trump Tower. The presidential transition has been silent about what Trump and Bondi, who are personal friends, will discuss.

Bondi's name has been mentioned in connection to several high-level positions, including White House "drug czar" and U.S. trade representative. She could also be nominated as a deputy or assistant U.S. attorney general or as a candidate to chair the Republican National Committee.

However, she could also be wary of any job that would require a rigorous Senate confirmation process, as Bondi tends to cringe under critical spotlight.

Bondi was an early Trump supporter and appeared alongside him at rallies around the state, as well as at the Republican National Convention.

For the last week, Bondi has been out of the public eye, missing ceremonial events in the state Capitol, and her office has refused to respond to questions about where she is.

November 29, 2016

Does Pam Bondi want to face a Senate confirmation?

@MichaelAuslen

TP_405699_ELLI_0403_trumpsp (2)The steady trickle of political appointments by President-elect Donald Trump over the last month has so far not included one Floridian who is seen as very likely to win a top federal job: Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Speculating about Bondi's next career move has become a favorite parlor game in Tallahassee. A lot of ideas have been thrown around: White House drug czar, a nod to her first-term crackdown on so-called pill mills; assistant attorney general; U.S. trade representative. She was even seen as a potential U.S. attorney general until Trump tapped Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for the job.

However consider that more than 1,000 of the most desirable jobs in federal government require Senate confirmation. And Bondi has never been one to enjoy close scrutiny.

A controversy about a $25,000 check from Trump to Bondi's reelection campaign that came around the time other states were investigating and suing Trump University came to a boiling point this September in a tense press conference in the state Capitol. After weeks of Bondi refusing to comment, reporters asked pointed questions.

Bondi fired back.

"If I had returned it, you would have reported, 'Bondi accepted bribe, got caught, and returned it,' " she said. "There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return it."

Text messages released to the Times/Herald show that in early June, Bondi felt personally victimized by reporting about the Trump check.

"Shame on you," she wrote to one reporter. "You have destroyed my entire career ... Complete lies."

Bondi, whose resume includes nearly 20-year career as a Tampa prosecutor and six years as a conservative state attorney general, would likely have no problem winning approval from a Republican-controlled Senate.

But the confirmation process can be grueling and contentious. Bondi could face much quesitons from far more adversarial people than the Capitol Press Corps in Tallahassee.

Surely, that must be on her mind as she considers what jobs Trump may offer.

Still, it's not certain when a Bondi appointment may come.

Speculation has been fueled by her absence from the ceremonial organizational session of the Florida Legislature last week. The rest of the Cabinet was there. Bondi, who tends to avoide the spotlight in Tallahassee except during Cabinet meetings and ceremonial occasions, was absent.

Her office never responded to three emails asking where the Florida attorney general -- second in the line of succession to the governor's office -- was during the session.

On Monday, a spokeswoman provided no answer to questions about whether Bondi had plans to travel to New York, where Trump's team is interviewing job candidates, or about phone calls scheduled with the Trump transition.

Photo: Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times

November 11, 2016

Bondi gets top Trump transition job

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via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi was named today as a member of Donald Trump's top transition team, joining a group of political insiders and newcomers, including members of Trump's family.

Bondi was with Trump for most of the campaign, save for a couple months when she stayed off the trail amid questions of a political donation Trump gave her in 2013 around the same time Trump University was being investigated. Bondi served as a prominent female voice for Trump as he reeled from the release of a video in which he made sexually aggressive comments toward women and suggested he attempted an adulturous affair. Bondi said his comments were "disgusting" but "I believe in forgiveness."

It had already been speculated that Bondi would play some role in his administration. Today she was named to the Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee, which includes several lawmakers, Trump's children, Jared Kushner, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Breitbart News' Steve Bannon.

The overall effort will be led by Mike Pence, who takes over the top job from Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor will serve as a vice chairman.

"Together this outstanding group of advisors, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, will build on the initial work done under the leadership of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to help prepare a transformative government ready to lead from day one,” the president elect said. “The mission of our team will be clear: put together the most highly qualified group of successful leaders who will be able to implement our change agenda in Washington. Together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding this nation - specifically jobs, security and opportunity. This team is going to get to work immediately to Make America Great Again.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Chris Urso, Tampa Bay Times

October 28, 2016

Pam Bondi: It's 'obvious' Supreme Court didn't halt death sentences in Florida

@MichaelAuslen

Confusion continues to surround Florida's death penalty after the state Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that death sentences must be made on a unanimous jury vote.

That decision upended a new law passed this spring that required a 10-2 vote by the jury to sentence someone to death after they have already been found guilty. It led to questions about whether the Legislature must act before death sentences can commence.

Not so, says Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Death penalty trials should continue.

Still, Bondi's office has asked the Supreme Court to clarify its rulings in Hurst vs. Florida and Perry vs. Florida, the two death penalty cases the justices decided on Oct. 14 that ruled a split jury could not sentence someone to death.

"We're just seeking clarification toclarify for the trial courts and just state the obvious," Bondi said.

In fact, she said, a circuit court judge in Ocala "erred" last week when it put sentencing on hold in a double-murder case.

“The death penalty is still constitutional,” Judge Robert Hodges said, according to reports in the Ocala Star-Banner. “But the process to get there is gone.”

That's the argument that some death penalty defense lawyers have made in the weeks following the court's Hurst and Perry rulings.

Other questions remain unanswered about the death penalty in Florida, as well. Namely, what happens now to the 386 death-row inmates convicted and sentenced under thrown-out laws?

The question has caused stress among prosecutors who worry a mandate from the Supreme Court to retry cases or resentence convicted murderers would cause a catastrophic backlog.

But Bondi's not worried. Reporters asked Tuesday whether she thought there would be "hundreds of retrials and hundreds of resentencings"?

"I don't, I don't," she said.

October 24, 2016

Bondi returns to Trump campaign trail

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via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi reunited with Donald Trump this evening in Tampa, ending weeks of absence from the campaign trail as she faced scrutiny over ties to Trump.

"Eight years is enough," Bondi repeatedy said from the stage as she listed offenses of the Obama era.

Bondi vanished from the campaign trail in early September as the $25,000 donation Trump gave to her political committee got fresh life in the news. Then came Trump's comments about women. Bondi earlier this month called Trump's comments "disgusting" but said she believes in forgiveness.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative

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@jamesmartinrose

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on backpage.com, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images