Donald Trump’s defunct “Trump University” and lingering fraud lawsuits in New York and California over it gave his rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz fertile ground for attacks in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.
Rubio and Cruz used the lawsuits to question Trump’s character but also to raise the specter of widespread news coverage of their party’s presidential nominee being cross-examined in court about whether he committed fraud.
Trump and his attorneys have repeatedly denied fraud or other wrongdoing by the for-profit school that operated from 2005 to 2011, and they have responded by attacking their accusers in public and in court.
At the debate, Rubio took the first shot during an exchange with Trump.
“There are people who borrowed $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they’re suing now — $36,000 to go to a ‘university’ that’s a fake school. And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump,” Rubio said.
Trump defended the school and its workers, saying, “They actually did a very good job.” And as to the legal complaints, Trump said, “I’ve won most of the lawsuits.”
Rubio’s allegations are similar to the complaints raised by a $40 million lawsuit filed against Trump and those involved in Trump University, and its successor Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in 2013.
That lawsuit alleges Trump and his school used misleading advertising to dupe 5,000 individuals — 600 of them New Yorkers — to pay up to $35,000 for seminars and mentorships through the unlicensed, unaccredited “university” that illegally operated in New York State.
A judge in October 2014 threw out part of the lawsuit but ruled Trump and the school liable for some claims of restitution. Resolution of the case is pending appellate rulings.
Later in the debate, Cruz attacked.
“I want you to think about if this man is the nominee, having the Republican nominee on the stand in court, being cross-examined about whether he committed fraud. You don’t think the mainstream media will go crazy on that?” Cruz said.
Trump could find himself being grilled on the witness stand as soon as May, according to a Yahoo News story.
He is listed to appear in a class action lawsuit filed in San Diego in 2010 charging that thousands of students were “scammed” into maxing out their credit cards and paying up to $60,000 for seminars that were little more than an “infomercial.”
At the debate, Trump responded by calling the lawsuit “nonsense,” and said, “Believe me, I’ll win that case.”
Trump added, “It’s something I could have settled many times. I could settle it right now for very little money, but I don’t want to do it out of principle. The people that took the course all signed — most — many — many signed report cards saying it was fantastic, it was wonderful, it was beautiful.”
Trump has turned his lawyers loose on those suing him.
Trump sued Schneiderman for $100 million for defaming his brand, and filed a misconduct complaint against the attorney general, charging he sought to raise campaign contributions from Trump and his daughter while the probe of the school was underway. The lawsuit is pending. A state ethics agency declined to pursue the complaint.
And the named plaintiff in the San Diego class action lawsuit asked to withdraw from the case this month, saying she had been “put through the wringer” by Trump’s attorneys and that she worried that Trump would follow through on threats to ruin her financially, court records show.