By some measures, the controversy surrounding "Trump University" is a helpful microcosm of a much broader problem. A group of people, impressed by Donald Trump's purported wealth, rallied behind a high-profile endeavor, only to discover that the rhetoric was hollow and Trump couldn't deliver on his grandiose promises.
Maybe, just maybe, there's a parallel between this and the Republican's presidential campaign.
The difference, of course, is that some of the students who attended the "courses" have a recourse voters lack: they're suing "Trump University." The GOP's presumptive presidential nominee has taken the unorthodox approach of blasting the federal judge
in the case while it's still being litigated.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump railed against the judge in the legal battle over Trump University, telling a large crowd Friday in San Diego, "There should be no trial." "We're in front of a very hostile judge. The judge was appointed by Barack Obama," Trump told a campaign rally on the same day as a hearing was held in San Diego over his online real estate school, which closed in 2010. "I mean frankly, he should recuse himself because he's given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative."
He added that he and his team believe U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel is "Mexican." For the record, Curiel is an American born in Indiana.
Regardless, Trump was apparently in high dudgeon because of the latest developments in the case. The Washington Post reported
over the weekend that the federal judge "ordered the release of internal Trump University documents in an ongoing lawsuit against the company, including 'playbooks' that advised sales personnel how to market high-priced courses on getting rich through real estate."
Those materials may very well keep the controversy alive, help the litigants claiming the "university" used deceptive business practices, and raise even more doubts about the way in which Trump conducts his business affairs -- ostensibly the basis for his White House bid.
As for the underlying controversy, recapping our coverage
, the Washington Post reported
last fall that the New York Republican was the namesake of a “university,” where students sometimes “max[ed] out their credit cards to pay tens of thousands of dollars for insider knowledge they believed could make them wealthy.”
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.
Instead of a fast route to easy money, these Trump University students say they found generic seminars led by salesmen who pressured them to invest more cash in additional courses. The students say they didn’t learn Trump’s secrets and never received the one-on-one guidance they expected.
“He’s earned more in a day than most people do in a lifetime,” a 2009 ad, featuring Trump’s photograph, said. “He’s living a life many men and women only dream about. 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.”
Trump attorneys have long insisted that aspiring investors learned valuable lessons with which most students were satisfied. But the Post’s article also highlighted a Texas man, Louie Liu, who said he paid “$1,495 for a three-day seminar, then felt lured into paying $24,995 for more classes, an online training program and a three-day in-person mentorship.”
He now believes that the Trump University program was a “scam.”
Another man, Bob Guillo, paid nearly $35,000 for the “Trump Gold Elite package,” which amounted to very little. “I really felt stupid that I was scammed by Trump,” Guillo said.
“He’s the biggest phony in the world, yet people as gullible as me think he’s the greatest guy in the world,” Guillo told
the Washington Post
. “When I watch him on TV, I’m really impressed. I think, ‘How can people believe in him?’ And I think, ‘Well, Bob, you believed in him in 2009. You gave him $35,000.’”