Backroom Briefing: Pam Bondi vs. Anderson Cooper

Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida


Making the rounds to friendly media outlets, Attorney General Pam Bondi spent two days this week decrying an interview by CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she said will only make it harder for her office to help victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Cooper on Tuesday asked Bondi during a live interview if it was “hypocritical” of her to suggest she was an ally or champion of the LGBT community based on her vigorous defense of the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Bondi responded that she had been simply defending a voter-approved ban in the state Constitution. A federal judge ultimately struck down the ban and allowed gay marriages to start last year in Florida.

The nearly 6 1/2-minute interview Tuesday started with a brief discussion of efforts by Bondi’s office to protect shooting victims’ families from getting overcharged by funeral homes and to help prevent scams that involve people donating money to fake websites taking advantage of the tragedy. Bondi repeatedly tried to bring up the topics throughout the chat with Cooper.

Bondi later said she thought the interview would only be about such efforts after the shooting early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people and wounded dozens more.

But after CNN posted a clip online that included most of the interview, starting with Cooper’s question about being hypocritical, the video went viral, with headlines saying Bondi was “grilled,” “hammered,” and “called out.” The full interview appeared later that day on CNN’s website.

Defenders of Bondi labeled the interview a “political attack” and a “hit job,” saying she was “sandbagged,” ambushed” and “blindsided.”

The next day Bondi, appearing on WOR radio in New York, said Cooper’s line of questioning has only created “more anger and havoc and hatred.” And much of that has been directed at her, Bondi said.

“All it did was encourage anger and hate, and families that were trying to help to probably not trust my office and the 14 advocates we’ve brought in who are helping them get compensation to bury their loved ones,” Bondi said on WOR. “And of course I’ve been getting horrible hatred emails and text mail based on Anderson’s story. So that was just sad. He had a real opportunity to bring our country together yesterday and talk about what’s right and what’s good. Instead of a story filled with anger.”

On Thursday, Bondi went on FOX News’ “Fox & Friends” claiming that Cooper “just flipped on me.”

Cooper offered a rebuttal Wednesday night saying that while Bondi “seems like a nice person,” it’s “my job to hold people accountable.” And Cooper said Bondi’s descriptions of the interview are “factually incorrect” or “mistaken,” pointing to pre-interview notes that outlined what her office considered on and off topics.

Specifics on the FBI investigation into the shooting and questions about gun control were considered off topic, Cooper said.

“If on a Sunday a politician is talking about love and embracing ‘our LGBT community,’ I don’t think it is unfair to look at their record and see if they have actually ever spoken that way publicly before, which I’ve never heard her say,” said Cooper, who is gay.

Cooper, saying he was respectful throughout the interview process, then recounted that Bondi signed off on a federal court brief in 2014 that claimed allowing gay marriage would cause “public harm” in Florida.


While Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said he’s willing to step aside so his buddy U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio can run for re-election, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the national political prognostication site Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said Thursday that such a move wouldn’t change the contest from its current “toss up” status — at least for now.

But in looking at the crowded U.S. Senate field, Kondik said that while Rubio’s star has been “dimmed” by his presidential aspirations, he may be the best bet in 2016 for the Republicans.

“Had Rubio not run for president and simply run for another Senate term, we suspect he would have been the favorite in the fall,” Kondik wrote. “He may still ultimately be a favorite if he re-enters the fray now, but because of his failed presidential run and the dominoes his campaign demolished, the picture is hazier. Nonetheless, Republicans are right to hope for a Rubio run.”

The Republican primary field will see some shedding if Rubio enters the contest, and the anti-Rubio vote could be splintered by a pair of wealthy businessmen.

But Kondik added that Rubio will also have to mend fences. Rubio has lost some tea party support for backing failed immigration reform legislation, and he upset Bush family loyalists by entering the Republican presidential primary against former Gov. Jeb Bush. Then there is the anti-Rubio vote that came out when he was beaten in Florida by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“Additionally, Rubio could face criticism over what may look to some like opportunism — effectively using the Orlando shootings as an excuse to re-enter politics,” Kondik wrote. “That may or may not be fair, but Rubio would have to deal with that perception nonetheless.”


By focusing on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Gov. Rick Scott postponed a trip this week to attract businesses from Louisiana.

Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said it is unknown if the trip will be rescheduled.

The mission was expected to feature private meetings involving Scott, members of the public-private Enterprise Florida and business owners in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “In this city’s darkest hour, our residents have shown that they are that light #OrlandoUnited” — Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer @orlandomayor on Thursday.