New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a $40 million lawsuit against Donald Trump, Trump University, and a former president of the school over claims Trump and the school made that the AG alleges were false.
“Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand,” Schneiderman said.
The lawsuit claims that Trump and the program ran an unlicensed institution from 2005 to 2011, that ads for the school made “false promises” that lured 5,000 students, including 600 in New York State, into paying between $1,495 and as much as $35,000. The dubious claims include one in which ads said Trump handpicked instructors. Moreover, students were promised a chance to meet Trump, but that never happened. And students never got any real estate deals out of their “education,” the lawsuit says. The whole program is being called a bait-and-switch in the media.
The New York Times reports that dozens of former students in Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois filed complaints about the program and an inquiry began 2011. The school was told to change its name, which it did, to Trump Entrepreneur Institute, but the complaints kept rolling in. A lawyer for Trump says 11,000 evaluations resulted in 98 percent positive feedback. Another of Trump’s lawyers, George Sorial, says the lawsuit is politically motivated.
This lawsuit could shut Trump down at a time when he would otherwise be mouthing off to the media about the upcoming elections, possibly even preventing him from launching another ill-fated campaign of his own.
Many people don’t take Trump seriously. His birther claims and his previous run for president were dismissed out-of-hand by a lot of people. But clearly, Trump has a following. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he was on TV asking about President Obama’s birth certificate, questioning Ted Cruz’s eligibility for president, and saying he would spend “whatever it took” to win the GOP nomination this time around. You’ll recall that at one point in the last election, Trump was actually the front runner in the GOP race.
But this could actually do more damage than his previous lunatic rantings. Trump’s popularity was based on conservative support against President Obama. But he’ll be hard-pressed to find support if the perception is that he’s made the billions he claims to have by bilking regular people out of thousands of dollars.
And if he does manage to hang on to the media’s attention, the inquiries will likely turn to this institution and the claims being made against it, making it difficult for him to rail against his usual targets. Sure he’s going to try to deflect attention, and some of his media supporters might even let him do that. But no outlet will let him blab on if there’s evidence of shenanigans that needs to be addressed.
Trump is already firing back on his Twitter handle with a series of tweets that went on for what looks like more than an hour, calling Schneiderman a “lightweight,” the lawsuit “extortion,” and starting a website called 98percentapproval.com. And he’s countered with something about Schneiderman taking a contribution from him, to which AG Schneiderman’s spokesperson Andrew Friendman said, “the fact that he’s still brave enough to follow the investigation wherever it may lead speaks to Mr. Schneiderman’s character.”
It’s too soon to count him out, but this could be the thing that forces Trump to turn down the volume.