Bernie and Jane Sanders Lawyer Up Amid Burlington College Investigation

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 2:35 pm, June 26, 2017
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The top political adviser to Bernie Sanders has confirmed the senator and his wife have hired defense lawyers amid a federal probe, according to Politico Magazine.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into “some aspects” of the financial dealings of Burlington College, where Jane O’Meara Sanders worked as president from 2004 to 2011. The college went bankrupt in 2016 because of the “crushing weight of debt” it incurred under her tenure.

Brady Toensing, vice chair of the Vermont Republican party, wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney in March 2016, urging them to examine whether Sen. Sanders’ office had exerted “improper pressure” on People’s United Bank to approve a $6.7 million, tax-exempt loan for the college.

Politico Magazine noted that “the evidence for that charge seems to be thin, at best” and that such allegations are tough to prove. Nonetheless, it’s perhaps noteworthy that Bernie Sanders, like his wife, retained a defense attorney.

According to Politico Magazine, the Sanders family has hired Rich Cassidy, “a well-connecting Burlington attorney and Sanders devotee,” and Larry Robbins, who defended Scooter Libby.

Jane Sanders’ woes date back to 2010, when she helped Burlington College borrow $10 million to purchase 32 acres of land from the Roman Catholic diocese. To secure these loans, Ms. Sanders repeatedly said she had secured more than $2 million in fundraising commitments and pledges—but only a fraction of that money materialized.

Toensing asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether Ms. Sanders had knowingly misrepresented fundraising numbers, committing federal bank fraud.

Jane O’Meara was president of Burlington College from 2004-2011. Last year, the college closed under the “crushing weight of debt” taken on during her tenure.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


Sen. Sanders recently called the controversy “nonsense,” also telling local reporters that “it would be improper” for him to comment further.

Sanders also noted to the local media that the investigation was “initiated by Trump’s campaign manager, somebody who does this all the time, has gone after a number of Democrats and progressives in this state.” (Toensing, a longtime fixture in the state’s Republican politics, did chair Trump’s Vermont campaign.)

During Jane Sanders’ tenure, Burlington College spent hundreds of thousands at a woodworking school owned and operated by her daughter, Carina Driscoll.

Earlier this month, the college’s final president, Carol Moore, accused Ms. Sanders of nepotism; Burlington College spent more than $500,000 under Ms. Sanders’ tenure on a woodworking school owned and operated by her daughter.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute.