Once upon a time, Bernie Sanders was just a small-time mayor in Burlington, Vermont. He sported horn-rimmed glasses and resembled Buddy Holly rather than a man who would go on to shake up Democratic politics. And, though he now spends his days on Capitol Hill, the senator still has his roots in Burlington. His wife, Jane, was the president of Burlington College from 2004 to 2011.
While Jane Sanders didn’t make any big splashes on the campaign trail, she’s now garnering attention amidst allegations that she altered donor levels in a 2010 loan application for Burlington College. The questionable donations were first uncovered by VTDigger, a political blog focusing on Vermont politics, in September of 2015. The site stated that “Jane Sanders overstated donation amounts in a bank application for a $6.7 million loan that was used by the college to purchase a prime 33-acre property on Lake Champlain in 2010.”
Eventually, the Vermont chairman of the Trump campaign, Brady Toensing (who happens to live in Burlington), caught wind of the loan and filed a claim with the U.S. Attorney for Vermont. In an email to CBS, Toensing wrote, “I filed a request for an investigation in January 2016, and an investigation appears to have been started right away […] my only hope is for a fair, impartial and thorough investigation.”
Toensing is a powerful man in Burlington, where he partners a law firm. A copy of his request to the U.S. Attorney in Vermont claims that Sanders guaranteed $2.6 million to the bank, though she only collected just over $676,000 in contributions and donations. Toensing also writes that during Sanders’ tenure at Burlington College, she “steered hundreds of thousands of dollars of the nonprofit college’s limited resources to her family and friends.”
According to the request, Toensing is not technically behind the investigation — though his law firm did file it. Instead, the letter states that the firm “represents Wendy Wilton,” who is a Catholic parishioner in Vermont. Jane Sanders purchased the land from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, and Burlington College eventually went under after they weren’t able to come up with the money for the land.
Politico first reported Thursday that Sanders has retained a lawyer amidst the news that the FBI was investigating the bank fraud case. But, Toensing is going after Senator Bernie Sanders as well. He has implied that Sanders used his political influence to lean on the bank and get the loan approved, despite the fact that Jane Sanders is suspected of distorting documents. When asked about the allegations, Bernie declared, “This implication came from Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont. Let me leave it at that because it would be improper at this point for me to say anything more.” When asked a follow-up question, he clarified,
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 this state. It would be improper at this point for me to add any more to that.
Sanders’ adviser Jeff Weaver told CBS that it’s flat-out false that Bernie lobbied for the loan and stated that “the loan was approved by the financial board at the college.” The FBI has not commented on the probe, and it’s unclear what stage their investigation currently is in.