BURLINGTON — In a rare interview with local media, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., dismissed as politically motivated “nonsense” the notion that his office pressured a bank to approve a loan for a college operated by his wife.
Sanders was asked by WCAX on Friday about allegations from Vermont GOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing that Sanders’ Senate office pressured People’s United Bank to grant the $6.7 million loan Jane Sanders secured as Burlington College president.
The college used that loan to purchase a lakefront campus in 2010. Burlington College closed last year under the “crushing weight” of debt incurred in that land deal.
Toensing sent a letter to the U.S. attorney for Vermont and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. calling for a probe into whether Jane Sanders committed fraud by overstating pledged donations used to secure the loan. The Justice Department has been investigating the college, according to documents, donors and former employees.
Just after the school closed, Toensing sent a follow-up letter to the feds saying he was approached by someone who told him Sen. Sanders’ office “improperly pressured” People’s United Bank to approve the loan.
Toensing has not said publicly who approached him or how the alleged pressure was applied.
When WCAX asked about the allegation, Sen. Sanders responded, “This implication came from Donald Trump’s Vermont campaign manager. It’s from Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont. Let me leave it at that because at this point it would be improper for me to say any more.”
Toensing was Trump’s Vermont campaign committee chair, not the president’s Vermont campaign manager.
Reminded that he’s previously referred to the allegation as nonsense, Sanders said, “Yes, it is nonsense. But now that there is a process going on, which was initiated by Trump’s campaign manager, somebody who does this all of the time — has gone after a number of Democrats and Progressives in the state — it would be improper at this point for me to add any more at this point.”
Sen. Sanders and Jane Sanders ignored a reporter’s questions about Burlington College at last week’s Curtis Leadership Awards ceremony hosted by the Vermont Democratic Party.
During his speech at the awards dinner, the senator seemed to allude to the Burlington College investigation, again casting it as politically motivated.
He told the audience it is often a politician’s family who “bears the brunt” of politically motivated attacks that have become “so very common” in the current political climate.
Sanders then praised his wife for working diligently at his side throughout his career, drawing a loud ovation from the crowd.
Toensing issued a statement Monday deriding Sanders for dodging questions and noting that, according to former college employees, the Department of Justice investigation was initiated in February 2016, when President Barack Obama was still in office.
“The FBI has not disclosed what prompted its investigation, but it was started more than a year ago under President Obama, his Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and his United States attorney, all of whom are Democrats,” Toensing said.
Sanders’ former presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver issued a statement to some media outlets through Revolution Messaging, which the firm said was on behalf of the Sanders family.
“In February of 2016, in the middle of Bernie’s presidential campaign, the vice-chair of the Vermont Republican Party asked for a federal investigation of Burlington College. Jane has not been contacted by the FBI or any other authority and only knows as much as news reports indicate. Jane served as president of the college from 2004 to 2011. In the five years following her departure, the college experienced major turnovers in leadership, staff and its Board of Trustees,” the statement reads, according to a Vermont Public Radio report. Revolution Messaging did not provide the statement to VTDigger.
Repeated requests to Jane Sanders for an interview regarding Burlington College have been ignored for more than a year and a half, beginning just before VTDigger reported that pledged donations were overstated in a loan document she signed.