It took a while, but the Trump University fraud case officially reached its end last week. The political fallout, however, hasn’t quite run its course.
USA Today reported the other day on the end of the settlement agreement.
A federal judge finalized the $25 million settlement between President Trump and students of his now shuttered Trump University on Monday, with New York’s attorney general claiming “victims of Donald Trump’s fraudulent university will finally receive the relief they deserve.”
The order from U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel – the same Indiana-born judge Trump called biased because of his “Mexican heritage” – comes a year after he first approved the settlement. It marks the end of two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit from New York accusing Trump of “swindling thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars through Trump University,” in the words of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The circumstances are nothing short of bizarre: a sitting president of the United States has written a check for $25 million to a group of Americans who credibly claimed that he ripped them off by perpetrating a fraud.
You know things are bad for a president when a story like this goes almost entirely unnoticed by the public, eclipsed by a dozen or so more pressing scandals.
Regardless, after keeping a close eye on this case for a long while, I think it’s a shame to see the case end – because I’ve long believed this is one of the underappreciated controversies of Trump’s recent career.
Indeed, as regular readers may recall, the finalized settlement agreement wasn’t supposed to happen at all – according to the president.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump boasted during a debate, “This is a case I could have settled very easily, but I don’t settle cases very easily when I’m right.” After boasting that the Better Business Bureau gave Trump University an “A” rating – a claim that turned out to be a brazen lie – Trump added, “Again, I don’t settle cases. I don’t do it because that’s why I don’t get sued very often, because I don’t settle, unlike a lot of other people.” (The assertion that he doesn’t “get sued very often” also turned out to be a demonstrable falsehood.)
After the election Trump settled the case he said he’d never settle – shortly before he was supposed to take the stand in his own fraud case.
And what a case it was. The Washington Post reported in 2015 about students sometimes “max[ing] out their credit cards to pay tens of thousands of dollars for insider knowledge they believed could make them wealthy.”
What I’ve long found important about this story are the parallels between the unaccredited “school” and Trump’s rise to political power: a group of Americans, looking for easy solutions and wowed by a celebrity making too-good-to-be-true promises, put their faith in an accused scam artist, only to learn that Donald Trump had no intention of delivering on outlandish pledges that never really made any sense.
Rank-and-file voters, however, do not have the option of filing a class-action lawsuit.
As for the lingering consequences, the Dallas Morning News had a report the other day that stood out:
President Donald Trump named former Texas Deputy Attorney General David Morales on Tuesday to a trial bench in Corpus Christi. Morales had been recommended to the White House by Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
Morales made headlines during the presidential campaign when news outlets learned that in May 2010 the state’s consumer protection division had sought permission to pursue what it believed was a strong case against Trump and Trump University. Investigators asserted that Texas taxpayers had been bilked out of more than $2.6 million, and sought to file a $5.4 million lawsuit.
Morales rejected the recommendation. Texas dropped its investigation. Trump University voluntarily ceased operations in Texas.
Last week, Morales was apparently rewarded for his trouble.