...and settles Trump University fraud suits for $25 million
Putting to rest years-old fraud allegations, Donald Trump agreed last week to pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits in California and New York brought by 7,000 former students of Trump University, his now-defunct real estate seminar program. The settlement, announced days before one of the lawsuits was set to go to trial in San Diego, removes a legal cloud that had hovered over Trump’s presidential transition. Former Trump University students claimed that they were charged as much as $35,000 for courses that promised to teach them Trump’s real-estate investment secrets but proved largely worthless. In sworn testimony, former Trump University managers testified that salespeople were trained to pressure attendees to buy additional pricey seminars, and that the enterprise—which falsely claimed that Trump handpicked the instructors—was “a fraudulent scheme.”
During his campaign, Trump had drawn controversy for alleging that Indiana-born federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, who oversaw two of the cases, was biased against him because of Curiel’s Mexican heritage. Trump had repeatedly called the lawsuits baseless and vowed never to settle, and as part of the final settlement did not admit to any wrongdoing. “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency,” Trump tweeted, “is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!”
What the columnists said
These suits “revealed an ugly fact about the president-elect,” said Libby Nelson in Vox.com. For decades, Trump has led his admirers to believe that he’d “use his power, wealth, and knowledge to help them.” In reality, his standard operating procedure has been to exploit others “to enrich himself.” The people who fell for the Trump University sales pitch “looked a lot like Trump’s base” and sincerely believed the celebrity mogul wanted to bring them wealth. Little did they know Trump’s mission was “to separate gullible people from their money.”
The settlement “was clearly an effort to prevent a major embarrassment” on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. Had the San Diego trial gone forward, the nation would have watched a succession of witnesses explain how Trump University “used false advertising and promises to lure them into parting with their life savings.” Or about how Trump approved the company’s ads but never attended the seminars or even reviewed the curricula. Avoiding such a spectacle was “surely worth a lot more than $25 million” to the future commander-in-chief.
This won’t be the end of Trump’s legal troubles, said Paul Callan in CNN.com. He’ll “still have to worry that potential litigants will be emboldened by these settlements to pursue cases of their own” against him. Indeed, a nationwide study by USA Today revealed that Trump currently has at least 75 open lawsuits against him and his businesses, “a historic number of legal matters” for an incoming president. In all likelihood, Trump “will be coughing up substantial coin to make these lawsuits go away” for some time to come.