Donald Trump introduces Trump University at a press conference in Trump Tower, New York, May 2005.
Photo by Dan Herrick/KPA/ZUMA

The ‘Trump University’ train wreck jolts presidential race

It was bad enough when former “students” at “Trump University” filed a lawsuit alleging Donald Trump’s enterprise was a scam that bilked those who attended. The controversy got worse last week when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went after a federal judge presiding over the case in a racially charged way.
 
But over the last 24 hours, the story has turned into a genuine scandal for which there is no apparent defense. MSNBC’s Alexandra Jaffe reported, “Trump University salespeople were instructed to play to peoples’ emotions and suggest that potential customers rely heavily on credit card debt or retirement funds to pay for the classes, according to documents unsealed by a federal judge Tuesday.”
 
The Huffington Post’s report added that the newly released documents “detail the internal ‘playbook’ of Trump University, including information about how its salespeople were told to deliberately mislead potential customers.”
The playbooks instruct salespeople to mention Trump by name in order to intimidate potential customers who are hesitant to spend thousands of dollars on a Trump University product. “Mr. Trump will not listen to excuses,” the playbook tells salespeople to say, “and neither will we.”
 
In another scenario, salespeople are instructed to berate potential customers, telling them, “You’ve had your entire adult life to accomplish your financial goals… and you’re not even close to where you need to be.” […]
 
The playbook instructed Trump University employees on how to target potential customers with bad credit. “What most people do,” reads one prompt, “is handle the tuition by putting it on their credit cards because it gives them the ability to make very small monthly payments and maintain a low overhead to run their real estate project.” Later on, it says, they can “use their success in real estate to pay off the banks in a couple of months or so.”
In one particularly memorable document, we learned that “university” salespeople were encouraged to seek out single parents who “had three children that may need money for food.”
 
It wasn’t just Trump University students who’ve accused the operation of fraudulent business practices; the New York Times reports that some former employees have raised the same allegations.
In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.
 
One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.
“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
 
In theory, Trump might consider an out-of-the-loop defense. In other words, maybe he could argue that “Trump University” used his name for branding purposes, but he had nothing to do with the business or its dubious claims. It’s not a bad idea, except as the Washington Post reported, “Donald Trump was personally involved in devising the marketing strategy for Trump University, even vetting potential ads, according to newly disclosed sworn testimony from the company’s top executive taken as part of an ongoing lawsuit.”
 
These are the kind of revelations that, in a normal year and in a normal political party, would quickly end a presidential campaign. Remember, because Donald Trump has never served a day in public office, all he has to offer the electorate is his private-sector experience.
 
Experience defined in part by “Trump University.”
 
For Democrats, this is like Christmas morning. Justin Barasky, a spokesperson for the Priorities USA super PAC, told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent this morning, “The predatory behavior demonstrated by Trump University against single parents who needed money to feed their children, young couples struggling to make ends meet, and other families down on their luck is beyond disgusting. Donald Trump is divisive, dangerous, and unquestionably a con-man who profited off the misery of others, and he should never be President of the United States.”
 
Expect a lot more of this between now and November. The story may not have the sexy appeal of scrutinizing cabinet-level email server protocols, but given the image Trump is presenting to voters, this controversy has the potential to do irreparable harm.
 
 
 

Donald Trump

The 'Trump University' train wreck jolts presidential race