Even employees of Trump University say it was a fraud.
Newly unsealed documents from the ongoing class action lawsuit against Donald Trump's real estate training business reveal that managers working for the company believed it to be "misleading, fraudulent and dishonest" in its operations and its pitch to potential customers.
The testimony from former employees of the company is not only incredibly damning to Donald Trump, the GOP's presumptive nominee for president, but to his supporters in the Republican party, who are, in effect, furthering Trump's massive political scam.
In one of the documents released this week as a result of a court order, Ronald Schnackenberg, a former sales manager for Trump University, described the entire operation as a "fraudulent scheme," one that "preyed upon the elderly and the uneducated in order to separate them from their money."
Trump University arrived at the tail end of the mid-00s real estate bubble promising to teach its customers how to successfully make money in the real estate business. The single biggest selling point of the school, which was not a traditionally accredited university, was Trump himself. He not only lent his name to the school, he appeared in its commercials, which promised to "make all of Donald Trump's secrets available" to those who signed up. "We teach success," Trump said in an ad for the program. "That's what it's all about. It's going to happen to you."
It's not clear that it happened to anyone, except, perhaps Donald Trump. "Virtually all students who purchased a Trump University seminar were dissatisfied with the program they purchased," Schnackenberg says in his sworn deposition, which was first reported by The New York Times. "To my knowledge, not a single consumer who paid for a Trump University seminar programs went on to successfully invest in real estate based on the techniques that were taught."
That may have been because, in many cases, the instructors at the school had little or no relevant experience in selling real estate. One mentor and speaker in the program had no real estate experience when he was hired; his background was in selling jewelry. In general, according to Schnackenberg, the program prioritized high-pressure sales experience for its hires. Few if any instructors had significant real-estate experience, and Trump University "misrepresented their experiences and successes to the public."
Trump U staffers were pushed to get personal information about the finances of workers under the ruse that they were helping to explain how to finance real estate deals; in reality, the goal was to get a sense of how much they were worth so that Trump University could extract. The job of Trump University employees was not to teach the real estate business, but to sell expensive seminars through deceit.
That meant pushing potential buyers to purchase programs they could not afford. Schnackenberg describes one instance in which he was reprimanded for not making a harder sale on a $35,000 seminar to a couple living on disability. (Another salesman eventually made the sale.)
Trump U students were consistently told to raise their credit card limits in order to borrow money both to invest and to purchase seminars. The goal was to quickly extract as much of their money as possible, and not to provide any value in return. Schnackenberg eventually quit working for Trump University, because he believed it was a fundamentally dishonest scheme.
Trump was, of course, central to the company's scheme, in that his name and image as a successful real estate salesman were integral to the pitch. Potential customers were told that the program's namesake would be closely involved in the seminars. That, however, was "a total lie," according to Jason Nicholas, another former Trump U employee. Schnackenberg also says he never once saw Donald Trump at Trump University.
I see no inherent problem with salesman making strong cases for their products, or with seminar programs designed to maximize their own profits. But those sales pitches must be essentially truthful. Trump U's pitch, delivered by Trump, was not. It was a series of misrepresentations and outright lies designed to convince the vulnerable to part with money that in many cases they could not afford to lose, while providing not one iota of value in return.
Donald Trump served as the frontman for this dishonest and predatory scheme. He lent it his name.
The testimonies of Trump University's former employees do not reveal Trump's character so much as confirm what we already knew.
After all, this is the same presidential candidate who delivered a victory speech on national television in which he claimed that Trump Steaks, which were discontinued shortly after their introduction in 2007, were still a going concern. The same person who put his name on Trump Ocean Resort, a beach condominium project that cost investors some $30 million when it failed to complete. The same candidate whose businesses have been involved in an unprecedented 3,500 legal actions during the last 30 years, according to a USA Today analysis.
Trump has repeatedly used his campaign to promote his business interests. He has also recently taken to using his political platform to implicitly threaten the judge who is overseeing the Trump University suit, calling the judge a "hater" and suggesting that some unspecified party should "look into" his actions.
It has long been clear that Trump is a brazen liar and a practiced scam artist, and that his business and political personas are inseparable. He is continuing his scam as a political candidate.
Tellingly, his campaign's response to the unsealing of the Trump University legal documents was to release a video featuring happy testimonials about the program. The response merely perpetuates the fraud. As Leon Wolf notes, none of those people were involved in real estate. None provide any evidence that Trump University made them successful at selling real estate. One has a business relationship with Trump involving protein water; another is a coaching seminar guru; one is—I am not making this up—a professional testimonial giver.
Trump's response to accusations that he is a fraud is to add a new layer of misdirection.
None of this is new for Trump. But what is now apparent is how willing much of the Republican party is to go along with it.
The support is not limited to the primary voters who made Trump the nominee. Now that Trump is the presumptive nominee, prominent party actors are lining up to throw their support behind a transparent fraud. Senate leadership has thrown in with Trump. So has the Republican National Committee, and some major party donors.
Even some of Trump's harshest critics are falling in line. Last summer, while running for president, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Trump a "cancer on conservatism." Perry now says he'd be willing to serve as Trump's running mate.
Florida Senator Marco, during his own failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination, described Trump as an "erratic individual" and a "lunatic" who was "wholly unprepared to be president." He repeatedly called Trump a "con artist."
Rubio now says that if it would be helpful to Trump's presidential campaign, he would "most certainly be honored" to speak in favor of Trump at the GOP convention.
Rubio's "con artist" remark suggests he has no illusions about Trump's character, and that like the former Trump University staffers who believed their employer to be a fraud, he understands that the Trump campaign is at heart a scam.
Yet in contrast to Schnackenberg, who quit after his discovery, Rubio didn't quit. Quite the opposite. He knew Trump was a con man, and signed on anyway.
Rubio's enthusiastic willingness not only to accept Trump, but to endorse him, to speak out in Trump's favor and to say that it would be an "honor" to do so, suggests that Rubio and the rest of Trump's backers in the GOP are now willing to lend their own names—and, indeed, the sad and empty husk of the Republican party—to enable Trump's blatant political con.