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An editorial published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal insisted that student debt is “manageable for most students” and recycled previously debunked conservative talking points to fault student loan forgiveness programs and federal aid for America’s college debt crisis. The paper also echoed right-wing myths to argue that tuition “costs inevitably go up” in response to low-interest federal loans and dismiss progressive concerns about for-profit schools.
What good is having a right-wing echo chamber if it’s not cranked up and blaring out a disciplined message during the presidential campaign? The conservative movement continues to grapple with that propaganda question in the wake of Donald Trump clinching the nomination, which has created deep fissures within the right-wing media and its historically united front.
For decades, conservatives have taken pride in their media bubble that not only keeps Republican fans selectively informed about breaking news, but also bashes away at all political foes. In full-fledged campaign mode, the right-wing media can effectively serve as a battering ram that Republicans use to attack their enemies or fend off in-coming volleys.
But Trump has scrambled that long-held equation. Embracing positions that often fall outside the orthodoxy of modern-day conservatism, while simultaneously rolling out non-stop insults, Trump has presented conservative pundits with a monumental headache: How do you defend a creation like Trump? Or as one National Review Trump headline lamented last month, “What’s a Conservative to Do?”
That riddle is especially tricky when Trump puts would-be allies in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the truly indefensible, like the widening scandal surrounding Trump University, the presumptive nominee’s former real estate seminar business. Over the years the dubious venture has been the subject of several ongoing fraud investigations and lawsuits, including one by the state of New York on behalf of 5,000 alleged victims.
“It’s fraud. … straight-up fraud,” the state’s Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reiterated during an MSNBC interview last week after a judge unsealed court documents from one of the Trump U. lawsuits and allowed for a more detailed look into the allegations of deceit.
The strange part? Some key conservative voices agree with the Democrat’s legal assessment. That’s why back in February, a National Review writer denounced the Trump seminars as “a massive scam.” And last month, The Weekly Standard warned that Trump U. represented a “political time bomb” that could doom the candidate’s November chances: “Democrats will see to that.” (Both magazines have opposed Trump for months and have pointed to Trump U. as a reason for their opposition.)
That’s what’s so startling about watching the conservative media this campaign season: It’s been completely knocked off its game. Known for its regimented messaging and willingness to almost robotically defend any Republican front-runner and nominee, Trump is finding only a smattering of defenders when it comes to damning allegations about his scam seminars.
And when Trump recently escalated the Trump U. story by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel and insisted he couldn’t be impartial because of his “Mexican heritage,” the presumptive nominee found himself even further isolated within the conservative movement. (The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Trump’s judiciary attack “offensive” and “truly odious”; Bill O'Reilly did defend Trump last night.)
As for the scamming allegations, even for members of the conservative media who are willing to try to assist Trump, there’s very little to grab on to in terms of defending the scandal-plagued Trump U. Based on mountains of allegations and complaints from angry students -- students with no partisan political ax to grind -- all indications point to a widespread fraud operating under Trump’s name and one that bilked victims out of millions of dollars.
As The Atlantic noted after reviewing previously secret training materials for Trump U., “the playbook focuses on the seminars’ real purpose: to browbeat attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.” According to an affidavit from former student Richard Hewson, he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the free seminar and three-day workshop.”
The con appeared to touch every aspect of the real estate selling events. Instead of getting an implied, in-person meeting with Trump at one three-day seminar, some attendees were allowed to take their picture with a cardboard cutout of him. That’s one reason Schneiderman dubbed the whole program an “elaborate bait-and-switch” scheme. (Trump’s personal, immersed involvement was a key selling point.)
Still, some loyal conservative have tried to explain away the allegations. Last week on Fox, Tucker Carlson tried to downplay the damage by wondering if Trump U. was a “scam” the same way Princeton is a “scam.” Over at Outnumbered, co-host Jedediah Bila asked if Trump U.’s allegedly fraudulent practices weren’t just good "aggressive sales tactics.” She added, “I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story?”
Bila’s co-host Melissa Francis also didn’t see what the big deal was: “You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about.”
And former Republican candidate Ben Carson assured Sean Hannity that, “I recently talked to a physician who went to Trump University, and this man is very wealthy, but he's not wealthy from being a physician. He's wealthy from what he learned at Trump University and learning how to do investments.”
Note that many of Trump’s other friends at Fox have been a bit more suspect on the matter. “Trump has a simple assignment, find five people who are graduates who are willing to go on TV and say, you know, my life was improved, my income went up, it was a good experience,” announced Newt Gingrich on Sean Hannity’s show, rather than categorically defending the dubious seminars. (To date, Trump has struggled to produce a multitude of satisfied graduates.)
Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also appeared on Hannity’s show last week to discuss Trump U. and insisted that while it was a “minor issue,” nonetheless “Trump should have settled this a long time ago.”
Even Trump’s fiercest media defender, Breitbart.com, has taken a timid approach to the Trump U. fraud story, with the site refusing to offer up a full-throated defense of the alleged scam.
The ferocious conservative echo chamber isn’t built for nuance and it’s not designed for internal debate. But by sparking so much general dissention and by putting conservatives in the position of having to defend something as noxious as Trump U., the nominee is helping to mute the right-wing media voice this campaign season.
After Donald Trump received widespread criticism for attacking the ethnicity of the judge overseeing the Trump U. case, right-wing media figures are now falsely equating Trump’s bigoted attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel to comments made in a 2001 speech made by the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who called for more diversity in the court.
Megyn Kelly: "That Is Not The Way Our System Works"
Megyn Kelly criticized “pundits” calling for the judge in the Trump U. case to step down, stating emphatically “that is not the way our system works.” Kelly went on to state that “any litigant who moved to disqualify a judge based on his heritage would actually sanctioned, punished, by an court and it’s happened in the past. Rightfully.” Kelly’s critique came roughly an hour after Fox News host Bill O’Reilly called on the judge to recuse himself from the Trump U. case. From the June 6 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Good evening everyone. I'm Megyn Kelly. Donald Trump's attacks on the judge hearing the fraud case against his Trump University is where we begin tonight. Trump University was a school Trump founded promising students how to get rich selling real estate. Many students were very happy with what they got but thousands of others were not. They went on online, they wrote to the Better Business Bureau, and they filed individual lawsuits. Then they filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they were bilked out of their hard earned money and their retirement savings. These people were cops, vets, retirees; not rich people. Mr. Trump has tried repeatedly to get this case dismissed. He has been unsuccessful. Some have suggested that there's a political component to this case because the law firm representing the plaintiffs, one of them, has paid Bill and Hillary Clinton for speeches. However, the case against Trump University was filed in April 2010, long before Trump was a politician and even a full year before he demanded to see President Obama's birth certificate. Some argue that Trump is right to be indignant that one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs, not the plaintiffs themselves, not even the judge have supported the Democrats, that the law firm has. But a law firm can have any political leanings it wants. The plaintiff's law firm is not expected to love the defendant. The relevant question is whether the judge, and the trier of fact, can be fair. The judge here, Gonzalo Curiel, has been on the case for three years. He's issued several rulings in favor of Mr. Trump but some big rulings against him. Trump unhappy with the losses, now alleges this judge is biased against him because Judge Curiel, born in Indiana, is of Mexican descent.
Now even some pundits are demanding that Judge Curiel step down to eliminate doubts as to his motivations, but that is not the way our system works. Judges must indeed avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest, but litigants do not get to create that appearance by vocally complaining about the judge. Any litigant who moved to disqualify a judge based on his heritage would be actually sanctioned -- punished -- by any court and it's happened in the past, rightfully. Moreover if a litigant making a stink about a judge necessarily resulted in a conflict that would force a judge to step down, it would lead to chaos in our court system. It would prejudice the other party who’s not complaining or taking their licks. And it would lead to more parties throwing fits in order to bounce judges off the case whose rulings they do not like. Simply put this is not the way our system was designed to work.
And today with all this controversy coming to a head, Bloomberg dropped a bombshell report quoting sources who are on a phone call with Mr. Trump saying the candidate called on supporters to join him in questioning the judge's credibility and went on to ask them to also attack the reporters who asked about it.
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Trump U. Is Currently Under Fire For Misrepresentation And Predatory Business Tactics
In an on-air poll, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren asked viewers whether Donald Trump “should … reopen Trump University,” even though the shuttered “university” is currently facing numerous pending fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits.
On the June 2 edition of On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren interviewed honorary co-chair of Trump’s New York state campaign team and failed New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who argued that Trump U. “could give a lot of kids an opportunity which they didn’t have otherwise” and that Trump himself “looked at” Trump U. “as a civic service.”
Later, Van Susteren asked her audience to respond to an on-air poll that asked viewers, “Should Donald Trump reopen Trump University?”
Van Susteren’s segment and Twitter poll comes as Trump U. faces scrutiny from fact-checkers and several pending fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits.
Though most media outlets have been heavily critical of Trump’s real estate seminar business, Fox News has provided the Republican nominee plenty of cover by allowing Trump to use its airtime to lie about the scandal-ridden business long before he became a presidential candidate.
Broadcast nightly and morning news shows on major networks mentioned or showed a video released by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign featuring former Trump University students defending and praising the real estate seminar business in the wake of ongoing fraud lawsuits. However, the shows failed to mention in their coverage of the video that these former students have undisclosed personal and business ties to Trump.
Following the release of unsealed court documents related to the ongoing fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits brought against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's now-defunct Trump University real estate seminar business, Eric Trump joined Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum to defend the business' practices with more lies and misleading claims.
Trump appeared on the June 2 broadcast of Fox News' America's Newsroom to discuss several topics, among them the recently released documents pertaining to a pending class-action lawsuit against Trump U. Trump repeatedly pushed the already debunked claim that the business "had a 98 percent approval rating." A New York Times investigation found, however, that the survey process for determining this approval rating was itself, in fact, "a central component of a business model that, according to lawsuits and investigators, deceived consumers."
Trump also compared allegations of fraud against Trump University to student dissatisfaction at "Harvard" and "every major university around the world." MacCallum did not push back on these claims, only speaking once after her initial question about Trump U. to note that, "any time you have a business, you're going to have some customers, and even some employees, who are disgruntled or dissatisfied."
From the June 2 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
MARTHA MACCALLUM (host): Let's take a look at something else. This is a quote from somebody who worked for Trump University. I know this is a legal matter and it's being handled in the courts, but in terms of a political matter, take a look at this quote. Because I guarantee you, you are going to see and hear this on Hillary Clinton commercials going forward. "I believe Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money." This comes from a person who worked for Trump University.
ERIC TRUMP: You know, Trump University had a 98 percent approval rating. 98 percent, meaning at the end of taking the courses, people graded the university and they wrote a little report card about it. A 98 percent approval rating. We actually posted that on a website so, you have people that come back and buyers' remorse or whatever it is. You have people that come back after grading it an A-plus, I loved it, I learned so much for it, I brought this into my own personal life, it helped me develop as a person, it helped me start my first business, etcetera, etcetera. And then they come back and say that, so you know, I think we're going to win that case. I know we're going to win that case. We have every single one of those report cards, it just undermines quotes like that. I mean, the university did a great job. It did a great thing. It was highly, highly respected.
MACCALLUM: The good outweighs the bad essentially. That any time you have a business, you're going to have some customers, and even some employees, who are disgruntled or dissatisfied.
TRUMP: There's probably people that go to Harvard and say, listen I went to Harvard and I got a great education and I can't find a job, or I didn't become the success that I could have been. Sure, I mean you probably have that at every major university around the world. I mean, Trump University had a 98 percent approval rating, and I think that wins the day.
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Following the release of unsealed court documents related to the ongoing lawsuits against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s now-defunct “Trump University” business, media are beginning to highlight the contradictory and false statements Trump has made about Trump U. on the campaign trail. But Trump and his real estate seminar business have been facing these fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits for years, and Fox News was letting Trump lie about it long before he became a presidential candidate.
In August 2013, Trump joined Fox & Friends for a nearly eight-minute phone interview to discuss the filing of a civil suit against Trump U. by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, which alleged his business violated the law through an “elaborate bait-and-switch” scheme. The Fox hosts allowed Trump to repeatedly misrepresent his defunct real estate seminar business and float baseless conspiracy theories about the origins of the lawsuit, and even agreed with Trump that the suit could be a politically motivated attack.
Here are the lies Fox News allowed Trump to push about Trump U. years before its allegedly fraudulent practices became presidential election news.
Trump Repeatedly Touted A “98 Percent Approval Rating” In His Fox Interview. In the course of the phone interview, Trump referred to Trump University’s “98 percent approval rating” or “high rating,” at least five times. From the August 26, 2013, phone interview:
DONALD TRUMP: You know, we have a school. The school is really a good school. They did a terrific job. We had wonderful instructors, wonderful everything. ...I really think that, you know, we have a great school. This school is a great school. They’ve done a fantastic job. When you get 98 percent approval ratings from the people that took the courses, and then you get sued, it’s rather shocking. [Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 8/26/13]
FactCheck.org: Lawsuit Alleges “Surveys Were Filled Out Under Pressure.” When Trump repeated his claim that Trump University had a “98 percent approval rating” in a presidential debate, FactCheck.org concluded that the statement was “misleading,” and pointed to evidence from one of the lawsuits Trump U. faces, which alleges students who filled out positive surveys may have been misled by instructors or encouraged to submit positive ratings under pressure:
In addition, Trump’s claim that “we have a 98 percent approval rating from the people who took the course” is misleading.
While it may be the case that many attendees initially filled out positive evaluations, one of the class-action lawsuits alleges that the surveys were filled out under pressure or with the expectation that participants would receive additional benefits in the future.
Tarla Makaeff v. Trump University, complaint, Sept. 26, 2012: While Trump University’s website has publicly claimed that 95% to 98% of students are satisfied with its course, this figure is far from the truth. While it may be true that Trump University received some positive ratings in surveys given to the students while the Seminars were in session or immediately afterward, at this point, many of the students actually still believe that they will eventually get the information and mentoring they need, since they have been promised a one-year apprenticeship or one-year mentorship. Also, these surveys are not anonymous, but have the students’ names on them, and students are often reluctant to criticize the instructors and mentors who they have paid a lot of money to help them throughout the year. It is not until later, when students see that the help and information they need is never coming — that they realize they have been scammed.
For example, Kevin Scott, who paid more than $30,000 for the courses, said that he gave his instructor a positive review “because I did not think that the problems with the mentorship were his fault.” And Robert Guillo, who also paid more than $30,000 on the program, said that he gave his instructor a positive assessment “because I believed that that was the only way to get my Certificates of Completion for the seminars that I attended.” [FactCheck.org, 3/4/16]
NYT Investigation: “The Surveys Themselves Were A Central Component Of A Business Model That … Deceived Consumers.” A March investigation from The New York Times reported legal testimony and in-depth interviews from several former Trump U. students who detailed ways in which they were misled or pressured into giving positive reviews to Trump’s real estate program (emphasis added):
Robert Guillo gave a glowing evaluation to his instructor at Trump University because, he said, the teacher pleaded for the best possible score, warning that without it, “Mr. Trump might not invite me back to teach again.”
Jeffrey Tufenkian offered excellent ratings because his Trump University-assigned mentor refused to leave the room until he did so, standing “right in front of me” as he filled out the evaluation form, he said.
John Brown tried to give his Trump University teacher a poor review — but said he was talked out of it by employees of the program, who called him three times, hounding him to raise his original scores.
“Tired of the continuing phone calls,” he later testified, “I finally gave in.” His dismal marks changed to top scores, Mr. Brown said.
Now, as Mr. Trump tries to fend off claims of misleading and fraudulent practices from scores of former students, claims his opponents have brought up in debates and in ads, his biggest weapon is what appears to be the overwhelmingly positive reviews from past participants — a 98 percent level of satisfaction, in his telling. “Beautiful statements,” is how he describes the evaluations.
But hundreds of pages of legal documents, as well as interviews with former students and instructors, suggest the surveys themselves were a central component of a business model that, according to lawsuits and investigators, deceived consumers into handing over thousands of dollars with tantalizing promises of riches. [The New York Times, 3/11/16]
When Asked If “Trump ‘Elite’ Program” Students At Trump U. Met With Trump, Trump Underscored His Personal Involvement With Instructors. During the phone interview, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Trump about one of the allegations in the New York civil suit related to a Trump University “promise” of “one-on-one time” with Trump himself for certain students. Trump did not address Kilmeade’s question directly, but did claim that he had been “very much involved” in meeting with and hiring Trump U. instructors. From the August 26, 2013, phone interview:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Now, one thing specifically that they write is that the Trump “elite” program, which cost between 10 and 35 thousand dollars, promises one-on-one time with you. Number one, is the promise valid? And number two, did you spend one-on-one time with people that go into the elite program?
DONALD TRUMP: Well look, I was very much involved with the school from the standpoint of, I see instructors, I talk to instructors. I talk to people, I worked very hard with the people that run the school to make sure it’s good. I check resumes. It was very important to me. [Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 8/26/13]
In Court Trump Could Not Recognize A List Of Instructors, Testimony Revealed He Had Not Helped Choose Them. In a December deposition in one of two California class-action lawsuits making similar allegations as the New York suit, Trump testified under oath that he could not recognize the names of any instructors on a provided list. Trump also stated that he had not, in fact, been involved in “hand-picking” instructors for the seminars. A CNN investigation of these court documents concluded that Trump “had nothing to do with the selection process of instructors” and that no one “at the Trump Organization was involved in the curriculum for the three-day real estate workshops”:
In Trump's own deposition this past December, Trump failed to recognize the name of a single presenter or teacher at his real estate seminars. He also confirmed he had nothing to do with the selection process of instructors who taught at the school's events or mentors for the school's "Gold Elite" programs.
A review of Trump University presenters and so-called real estate experts found many with questionable credentials and inflated resumes. Court documents show background-checks conducted during the hiring process could not determine whether some instructors even graduated high school.
In a recently released deposition taken on July 25, 2012, [Trump University official] Sexton, stated under oath: "None of our instructors at the live events were handpicked by Donald Trump."
Asked by attorneys if anyone at the Trump Organization was involved in the curriculum for the three-day real estate workshops, Sexton answered, "No."
Sexton confirmed Trump's lack of involvement in producing or reviewing the material used in the workshops. And on the specific promise of teaching Donald Trump's "proven secrets" in real estate, Sexton testified that the course taught strategies on how to invest in foreclosures, which Trump has used in the past.
"Mr. Trump has made investments with foreclosures. We cover investing with foreclosures," Sexton said.
Sexton testified Trump did have direct involvement in one part of the program -- advertising.
"He personally approved all the ads that were in newspapers," Sexton testified. [CNN, 5/27/16]
New York Attorney General: Trump “Did Not Handpick Even A Single Instructor At These Seminars.” In the official press release announcing the filing of the New York civil suit, the office of the New York attorney general wrote (emphasis added):
The petition filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan by Attorney General Schneiderman details the advertisements run by Trump University in major newspapers across the country and the direct mail solicitations sent to entice consumers to attend a free workshop. These ads prominently displayed Donald Trump’s photograph and signature, or were styled as letters written by Trump himself. The advertisements were replete with false claims, including claims that consumers would learn “from Donald Trump’s handpicked instructor a systematic method for investing in real estate that anyone can use.” Other ads promised “my handpicked instructors will share my techniques” or “learn from my hand-picked expert” and “just copy exactly what I’ve done and get rich.”
An investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman revealed that Donald Trump did not handpick even a single instructor at these seminars and had little or no role in developing any of the Trump University curricula, or seminar content. The investigation also revealed that officials used the name “Trump University” even though they lacked the charter necessary under New York law to call themselves a University. They were also unlicensed under New York State Education Law, evading an array of legal protections designed to protect New Yorkers from fraud. [New York State Office of the Attorney General, 8/25/13]
New Testimony From Former Employee: Trump Involvement Was “Not True.” In recently released testimony from former Trump U employees , one employee refuted claims that Trump was “actively involved” in the real estate seminars. From The New York Times report on the testimony:
Jason Nicholas, a sales executive at Trump University, recalled a deceptive pitch used to lure students — that Mr. Trump would be “actively involved” in their education. “This was not true,” Mr. Nicholas testified, saying Mr. Trump was hardly involved at all. Trump University, Mr. Nicholas concluded, was “a facade, a total lie.” [The New York Times, 6/1/16]
During Fox & Friends Phoner, Trump Boasted Trump U. Had A Better Approval Rating Than Harvard Or Wharton. Throughout the nearly eight-minute phone interview on Fox & Friends, Trump repeatedly praised his real estate business as a “school” and drew a favorable comparison between Trump U and Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance. From the August 26, 2013, phone interview:
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): I’ll tell you what, Mr. Trump, I’ve got two kids in college right now and neither one of those colleges guarantee that the kids are going to have jobs when they get out.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, that’s the other thing. I mean, you could go to Harvard and you could go to the Wharton School of Finance, I guarantee you they don’t have a 98 percent approval rating.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Right.
TRUMP: That’s one thing I can tell you for sure. [Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 8/26/13]
Trump University Was Never Licensed As A School. The Washington Post outlined the many ways Trump University attempted to cast itself as an educational institution, although it was never licensed as a school. The article also quoted a Trump lawyer who denied the real estate business was meant to seem like a school. From the September 13 article:
Never licensed as a school, Trump University was in reality a series of real estate workshops in hotel ballrooms around the country, not unlike many other for-profit self-help or motivational seminars. Though short-lived, it remains a thorn in Trump’s side nearly five years after its operations ceased: In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements.
It is unbelievable, [Trump Organization general counsel Alan] Garten said, that anyone could have thought that Trump University was a university in the traditional sense. Classes were held in hotel ballrooms, after all. “People who say, ‘I thought it was a university with a football team and a bookstore,’ it’s laughable,” he said. [The Washington Post, 9/13/15]
FactCheck.org: Trump U, Which Was “Never Officially Licensed” As A University, “Eventually Had To Change Its Name.” In a March fact-check of several of Trump’s claims related to Trump U, FactCheck.org noted that the real estate seminar business was never licensed as a university and “eventually had to change its name” in 2010:
Trump and his “university,” which was never officially licensed as such and eventually had to change its name to The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative in May 2010, are the subjects of three ongoing lawsuits alleging fraud. [FactCheck.org, 3/1/16]
In New York And Maryland, Trump U Was Legally Barred From Advertising As A University. In a report detailing Attorney General Schneiderman’s initial investigation into alleged fraudulent practices at Trump U, The New York Times noted that the real estate business was barred from calling itself a “university” in the states of New York and Maryland, and that doing so was considered a “violat[ion of] state education laws.” From the 2011 article:
But, as The New York Times reported last week, dozens of students have complained about the quality of the program to the attorneys general of New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois. The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D-minus for 2010, its second-lowest grade, after receiving 23 complaints. Over the last three years, New York and Maryland have told the company to drop the word “university” from its title, saying that using it violated state education laws. (The school was renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative in 2010.) [The New York Times, 5/19/11]
Trump: “Lightweight” Attorney General Met With President Obama, Immediately Filed “Terribly Drawn” Lawsuit. Trump also used his phone interview with Fox & Friends to float conspiracy theories about the motivations of the attorney general leading the civil suit against Trump U. During the phoner, Trump repeatedly mentioned that “political hack” Schneiderman had met with President Obama shortly before filing the suit, and suggesting the lawsuit was a baseless attack for “publicity.”
DONALD TRUMP: Think about how many schools you have all over the place, and [Schneiderman] picks Trump. I mean, give me a break.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): After golfing with President Obama, who clearly has not been fond of you.
TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what. Look, I’ve been a very harsh critic of the president. And I don’t want to be. If he was doing a great job, I don’t care, I’m a Republican, I would say he’s doing a great job. But he’s not doing a great job. They meet on Thursday evening, I get sued by this A.G. Schneiderman. I get sued on Saturday at one o’clock. Now think of it. What government agency in the history of this country has ever brought a suit on a Saturday? I’ve never heard of such a thing. So he meets with the president on Thursday night, he sues me on Saturday. It was a terribly drawn suit, incompetently drawn suit, and they obviously did it very quickly, but probably Obama, maybe this is a mini-IRS, maybe we have to get the Tea Party after these people, because this could very well be a mini-IRS.[Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 8/26/13]
Schneiderman Was Investigating Trump U. Long Before Encounter With Obama, Spurred By A “String Of Consumer Complaints.” Two years before Trump’s Fox & Friends interview or the filing of the New York suit, Schneiderman first launched an investigation into “credible” and “serious” allegations that the real estate seminar business had engaged in misleading business practices. At the time, The New York Times reported that the inquiry was part of a broader investigation into at least five for-profit educational companies. From the 2011 article:
The investigation was prompted by about a dozen complaints concerning the Trump school that the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has found to be “credible” and “serious,” these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was not yet public.
The inquiry is part of a broader examination of the for-profit education industry by Mr. Schneiderman’s office, which is opening investigations into at least five education companies that operate or have students in the state, according to the people speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The investigation is the latest problem for a six-year-old company, known until last year as Trump University, that already faces a string of consumer complaints, reprimands from state regulators and a lawsuit from dissatisfied former students. [The New York Times, 5/19/11]
Trump U. Was Also Facing A Class-Action Lawsuit When Schneiderman Filed The Civil Suit. When Trump phoned into Fox & Friends in 2013 to characterize the New York civil suit against Trump U as a publicity scheme, he didn’t mention the real estate seminar business had been fighting allegations of fraud in a federal California court since 2010. According to a press release, the law firm representing a nationwide class action against Trump U. filed the action -- which is still pending, and now represents one of three ongoing fraud lawsuits against the Trump U. business -- in April of 2010, detailing the business’ “disturbing practices” that “targeted and preyed on the fears of seniors,” among other allegations:
Plaintiff and class members who attended Trump University's real estate investing classes were promised a "complete real estate education," a "one year apprenticeship," a one-on-one mentorship, practical and fail-safe real estate techniques, a "power team" consisting of real estate agents, lenders, personal finance managers, property managers and contractors, and were assured that although the seminars cost as much as $35,000, they would make the money back in their first real estate deal, and could make up to tens of thousands of dollars per month or more. However, instead, each seminar was merely an "infomercial" to up-sell the student to purchase an additional Trump Seminar. The promised "one year apprenticeship" was in actual fact a 3-day seminar; the one-on-one year-long mentorship consisted of a 2-1/2 day excursion to view properties, and "mentors" recommended real estate deals in which they stood to financially benefit, and then quickly disappeared and failed to return calls. One of the most disturbing practices was telling students to raise their credit card limit 4 times, presumably to make real estate purchases, but then Trump University representatives told the students to use their newly increased credit limit -- not to purchase real estate - but to purchase the next Trump "Gold" seminar - for $35,000.
Further, the Trump University targeted and preyed on the fears of seniors, asking "How many of you lost a lot of your 401k investment in the market? How many of you are retired? How many of you want to leave a legacy or property to your kids?" Such tactics were not only unconscionable but illegal. [Robbins Gellar Rudman & Dowd, LLP, 4/30/10]
Redstate, USA Today Expose Trump Ties Behind New Video
Media are already pointing out that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new defense of his now-defunct “Trump University” business is itself a “scam.”
Following the release of unsealed court documents related to the ongoing lawsuits against Trump’s business, the Trump campaign posted a three-minute video on June 1 purporting to show the “true story” from “hard-working students who can attest to the first-hand truth about Trump University.”
RedState, which termed the video a “scam,” noted that two of the three former students shown in the video, Kent Moyer and Casey Hoban, do not appear to currently work in real estate, and that at least one of the students, Hoban, may have “an ongoing business and personal relationship with the Trump family.” RedState and USA Today both highlighted multiple posts from Hoban’s Twitter account that appear to show that the protein water Hoban sells is sold at various Trump properties.
The third student, Michelle Gunn, is a real estate investor who has previously given a testimonial for an unrelated self-help workshop. As USA Today reported, Gunn also “manages her college-aged son, Houston, who wrote a book at 13, Schooled for Success: How I Plan to Graduate from High School a Millionaire. It was endorsed by Donald Trump.”
In addition to what RedState and USA Today reported, in 2013 both Michelle and Houston appeared in yet another testimonial, which mentioned the release of the book and Trump’s endorsement. Houston Gunn’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile also feature photos of Gunn and Trump together. In a 2013 book tour talk, Houston Gunn seemed to credit his attendance of a Trump University real estate seminar for Trump’s endorsement of his book.
None of these apparent conflicts are mentioned in the new testimonials released by the Trump campaign, which instead characterized them as “representative of the many students who were overwhelmingly satisfied with Trump University.”
Fox's Jedediah Bila: "You’re Talking About Aggressive Sales Tactics. In Some Circles They Refer To That As Good Marketing"
Fox News hosts downplayed fraud allegations against Trump University, claiming the techniques used by the real estate seminar business were “good marketing” and “quite mainstream” when reporting on recently unsealed documents pertaining to two class-action lawsuits against the now-defunct business.
The hosts were referring to Trump University's allegedly fraudulent business practices and misrepresentations, detailed in three ongoing lawsuits in multiple states against the business. The release of new documents related to two of these cases challenges claims about Trump's own role in developing the real estate seminars and point to Trump U's misrepresentation of itself as a university. They also reveal former students' testimonies that the seminars did not deliver on promised real estate "secrets" and that instructors misled students in order to sell them higher-cost classes and elicit positive reviews. According to New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, "there wasn't one piece of his pitch that was actually true."
However, when Fox News’ Outnumbered brought up the story, co-host Jedediah Bila questioned whether these allegedly fraudulent practices were really just "aggressive sales tactics", which some would call “good marketing.” Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andre
From the June 1 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
JEDEDIAH BILA (CO-HOST): New details in lawsuit that could impact Donald Trump's campaign. So-called playbooks for selling people on Trump University unsealed yesterday when testimony by some former managers of the for-profit school was also revealed. Those former Trump employees describing aggressive sales tactics they say they were told to use, such as, urging financially-strapped customers to find the money, choosing words of flattery that are most persuasive, and picking specific music for the gatherings. But Trump's lawyers say the complaints come from a small number of students and that the vast majority were satisfied with their experience. A statement from the Trump organization says, quote, the courts order unsealing documents has no bearing on the merits of Trump University's case. Much of the unsealed evidence including declarations and surveys from former Trump University students demonstrates the high level of satisfaction from students and that Trump University taught valuable real estate information. Judge, I got to come to you, what do you think of this from a legal perspective? Is this going to impact him? You're talking about aggressive sales tactics. In some circles they refer to that as good marketing. What is the line here for that?
ANDREW NAPOLITANO: I do not know the merits of the case against him. I know that there is a group of his former students, if they were students, who paid a lot of money and felt they didn't get their money's worth and they have sued and if you add up all their demands it comes up to about 40 million bucks, a lot of money for anybody. I also know some of them are suing him personally, that he is not protected by the corporate shield. I assume that Trump University was a corporation. But what we just saw, what you just summarized, asked people to go out and find the money, talked to them using flattering words, play the right music in the background, what the heck is wrong with that? I can't see that as violating any standard of salesmanship. Look, this isn't Princeton University where you are trying to get in there, or Harvard. It's a school that has to sell itself and show what it has available and that's the job of these salespeople who as far as I can see used techniques that were quite mainstream.
BILA: Yeah, I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story? When I read some of this, I worked in marketing before, a lot of it just read like sales tactics that weren't necessarily corrupt or anything. It was just aggressive sales tactics is not a crime.
MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about. And I think people do hear that, but like any line of attack, especially when it comes from the Clintons, it opens up coming back on them. For example, a lot of good work that was done by The New York Times and Charles Ortel that was pulled out recently, we saw that Bill Clinton got $16 million from Laureate University, which is another for-profit university which makes Trump University look like a bodega on the corner. They're guilty of the same thing.
Marshall: Any Reporter Who Does Not Ask Trump About His”Dangerous” Attacks Is “Not Doing His Or Her Job”
Following presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s latest remarks attacking the federal judge presiding over two lawsuits pending against his now-defunct Trump University real estate seminar business, Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall highlighted the “unprecedented” personal attacks and “openly racist argument” Trump has launched against Judge Gonzalo Curiel over the last several months.
Trump has identified Curiel as a “Mexican” and “Hispanic” while criticizing his actions in the case, suggesting that Curiel is treating Trump unfairly and with hostility because of Curiel’s heritage and Trump’s position on immigration.
Marshall implored media to hold Trump accountable for the repeated, “dangerous” racialized remarks the candidate has made about Curiel, arguing that, “any reporter who gets a chance to ask Trump to justify his actions and doesn’t is not doing his or her job.”
From Marshall’s May 31 blog post:
It is unprecedented for a presidential candidate to personally attack and even threaten a federal judge. (To be fair, I'm not sure there's been a nominee being sued for fraud during the presidential campaign.) But here we have Trump making an openly racist argument against a federal judge, arguing that Curiel is pursuing a vendetta against him because Trump is, he says, "I'm very, very strong on the border."
The press routinely goes into paroxysms - often rightly so - about innuendos or phrasings that might in some way be racist or suggest racial animus. Here we have it in the open, repeated and showing itself as basically Trump's first line of attack when he is in anyway threatened. That's infinitely more dangerous than most things that routinely focus all the media's attention. Any reporter who gets a chance to ask Trump to justify his actions and doesn't is not doing his or her job. Few cases show more vividly how dangerous a person Trump is.