Trump University documents offer good insight into Trump’s ethics
John Cassidy reports at the New Yorker:
Following the release, earlier this week, of testimony filed in a federal lawsuit against Trump University, the United States is facing a high-stakes social-science experiment. Will one of the world’s leading democracies elect as its President a businessman who founded and operated a for-profit learning annex that some of its own employees regarded as a giant rip-off, and that the highest legal officer in New York State has described as a classic bait-and-switch scheme?
If anyone still has any doubt about the troubling nature of Donald Trump’s record, he or she should be obliged to read the affidavit of Ronald Schnackenberg, a former salesman for Trump University. Schnackenberg’s testimony was one of the documents unsealed by a judge in the class-action suit, which was brought in California by some of Trump University’s disgruntled former attendees.
Schnackenberg, who worked in Trump’s office at 40 Wall Street, testified that “while Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could.” The affidavit concludes, “Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
In one sense, the latest revelations don’t break much new ground. Back in 2013, when the office of Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General, filed a civil lawsuit against Trump and some of his associates, the complaint, which is also worth reading in full, made perfectly clear what sort of organization it was targeting. Despite Trump University’s claim that it offered “graduate programs, post graduate programs, doctorate programs,” it wasn’t a university at all. It was a company that purported to be selling Trump’s secret insights into how to make money in real estate. From the time Trump University began operating, in 2005, the A.G.’s office repeatedly warned the company that it was breaking the law by calling itself a university. (In New York State, universities have to obtain a state charter.)
That was the bait—or, rather, the initial bait. According to the Attorney General’s complaint, the free classes were merely a marketing device. There, Trump University’s instructors “engaged in a methodical, Systematic Series of misrepresentations” designed to convince students to sign up for a three-day seminar, where they would learn Trump’s personal techniques and strategies for investing, at a cost of about fifteen hundred dollars.
When it began, Trump University offered online classes, but it quickly switched its focus to live classes and seminars, the first of which was free to attend. One of the company’s ads said of Trump, “He’s the most celebrated entrepreneur on earth. . . . And now he’s ready to share—with Americans like you—the Trump process for investing in today’s once-in-a-lifetime real estate market.” The ad said that Trump had “hand-picked” Trump University’s instructors, and it ended with a quote from him: “I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you.”
In fact, Trump hadn’t handpicked the instructors, and he didn’t attend the three-day seminars. Moreover, the complaint said, “no specific Donald Trump techniques or strategies were taught during the seminars, Donald Trump ‘never’ reviewed any of Trump University’s curricula or programming materials, nor did he review any of the content for the free seminars or the three day seminars.” So what were the attendees taught? According to the complaint,” . . .
See also this NY Times report. From that report:
. . . The most striking documents were written testimony from former employees of Trump University who said they had become disenchanted with the university’s tactics and culture. Corrine Sommer, an event manager, recounted how colleagues encouraged students to open up as many credit cards as possible to pay for classes that many of them could not afford. . .