Amid candidacy, Trump faces questions over 'Trump University'


    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a South Carolina Republican primary night event in Spartanburg, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Trump claimed a big victory in South Carolina's Republican primary Saturday, deepening his hold on the party's presidential field as the contest moved into the South. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

    The candidate who recently declared his love of the "poorly educated," is now facing questions for a prior endeavor in which he sought to provide educational opportunities.

    Donald Trump is facing new questions about "Trump University," a business pursuit through which he offered "students," the opportunity to learn from his success.

    The most recent batch of questions regarding the long-standing legal actions, comes in light of a Yahoo Politics article.

    "This spring, just as the GOP nomination battle enters its final phase, front-runner Donald Trump could be forced to take time out for some unwanted personal business," Yahoo's Chief Investigative Correspondent, Michael Isikoff wrote.

    "He's due to take the witness stand in a federal courtroom in San Diego, where he is being accused of running a financial fraud."

    The particular case Isikoff is describing is that of Tarla Makaeff vs. Trump University.

    The case's complaint describes Trump University as an entity that "markets itself as a University driven by the mission to 'train, educate and mentor entrepreneurs on achieving financial independence through real estate investing.'"

    "It is anything but," the complaint reads.

    In the complaint, Trump University is described as being "more like an infomercial," than a college.

    FULL COMPLAINT

    "Trump and his so-called University promise 'mentorships,' urging consumers that it's the 'next best thing' to being Donald Trump's next 'Apprentice.' But as class members quickly find out, all Trump University provides is empty promises," the complaint alleges.

    "The primary lesson Trump University teaches its students is how to spend more money buying more Trump seminars."

    The complaint details the many ways in which Trump University misled its customers, including how instructors encouraged to raise their credit limits 2-4 times for "real estate transactions," and "had students prepare detailed financial statements, presumably for real estate purchases."

    "In fact," the claim argues "Trump's real reason for this was to assess how much money each student had to spend on the next Trump seminar, and to persuade the students to use their increased credit limit to purchase the Trump Gold Program for $34,995."

    Trump's lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, Isikoff wrote, did not return his request for comment on his piece. Sinclair's request for comment had not been returned by the time this piece was published.

    In the past, Alan Garten, who serves as the executive Vice President of and general counsel for Trump's company has pushed back against accusations about Trump University, The Washington Posts' Emma Brown reported.

    "The university claims it had a 98 percent satisfaction rate," according to Vox.

    The website 98percentapproval.com is dedicated to that claim and features reviews bearing the Trump University logo, in which participants rank the services of the business highly.

    Trump and his team have also taken legal action, but motions to dismiss Makaeff's case were denied by the court in 2001.

    Trump's team also filed a counterclaim against Makaeff, accusing her of defamation.

    Makaeff responded by filing something called an anti-SLAPP motion, the details of which were described in a blog post by Evan Mascagni, Policy Director of the Public Participation Project.

    SLAPP, Mascagni explained to Sinclair stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

    "It's basically a lawsuit brought to silence a critic," Mascagni explained. Opposed to going to court to seek justice, the person bringing the SLAPP attempts to drown the critic in legal fees.

    In states without anti-SLAPP laws, Mascagni explained, SLAPPs can be effective because they can get people caught up in the legal process.

    "Even a merit-less lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend against."

    California, where Makaeff's complaint was filed, has an anti-SLAPP statute, which, according to the California Anti-SLAPP Project "gives SLAPP targets an opportunity to have the court rule at the outset whether a SLAPP filer can show a probability of winning the suit by filing a motion to strike."

    If the complaint is dismissed and struck, the court orders the plaintiff to pay your attorney fees and costs, something Mascagni was critical in Makaeff's case.

    Mascagni explained that a final decision regarding Trump's counterclaim and the subsequent motion didn't come until four years after Trump filed.

    The length of time it took for this decision to be reached, Mascagni explained, is uncommon in these types of cases. This particular case took an extensive amount of time due to a number of complexities.

    "Imagine if [Makaeff] didn't have an anti-SLAPP law," Mascagni said, noting that given the unusual amount of time the decision took "if she didn't have that protection she could have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    In the end, the court granted Makaeff's anti-SLAPP motion against Trump University.

    As a result, the $1 million defamation counter-claim against Makaeff was dismissed.

    Even though the defamation suit failed, Trump and his legal team still tried to stop the case. In February of 2015, they filed a motion for a summary judgement, in an attempt to have the case disposed of quickly.

    On November 18th, a preliminary order denied the motion, allowing the case to proceed to trial.

    As Isikoff noted, the trial date has yet to be set.

    While Makaeff's case is making waves for its timing, it is hardly the only case against Trump University.

    When her piece was published in September, Brown wrote that Trump was involved in three pending Trump University cases.

    In one of these cases "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."

    "Such allegations of multimillion-dollar fraud might sink other candidates," Brown wrote describing as Trump University as "a chapter of Trump's past that shows how he sometimes defies the usual laws of campaign physics."

    Trump's popularity, despite the past scandal, stands in stark contrast to the struggles endured by the Democratic party's front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

    In comparing the two, it is critical to note that Clinton, thus far, faces no actual charges for her use of a private server during her time as Secretary of State. Regardless a simple google news search on "Clinton, Emails" returns over 4,000,000 results, an enormous amount of coverage in comparison to a search for "Trump University," which returns about just under 30,000.

    The same day that Isikoff's story ran, a federal judge ruled Clinton and State Department officials should be questioned regarding the ongoing probe into Clinton's use of a private email server.

    Clinton has been haunted by questions regarding her private email server throughout her Presidential campaign, even after she apologized and withstood a House Committee hearing in which she responded to many email-related inquiries.

    Accompanying and possibly even perpetuating the discussion of Clinton's server are monthly emails released as the result of a court-order.

    As Sinclair's Stephen Loiaconi previously reported, while previous releases "have contained few bombshells - significant redactions have raised questions about the Democratic front-runner's claims that she did not knowingly receive any classified information on the email account."

    Reporting on the release of Clinton's emails in August, Loiaconi wrote that the controversy over her email server "threatens to reinforce a feeling among many voters that Clinton is untrustworthy."

    National polling from over the summer found that 57 percent of voters said Clinton is not trustworthy, but she was not the only candidate facing that issue.

    In that same poll, 58 percent of voters also said Trump is not honest and trustworthy.

    "Republicans say Trump is honest and Democrats say Clinton is honest, but among all voters, both candidates come up short," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, was quoted saying in a write-up accompanying the polls release.

    "How can you become a general election front-runner if most voters don't trust you?" Malloy questioned.

    As the election nears and they remain front-runners polling of Clinton and Trump's trustworthiness has improved, though not substantially enough to surpass their competitors.

    February 17th polling showed that 61 percent of voters said Clinton was honest and trustworthy, while 87 percent said that of Sanders.

    Trump also remained the least trustworthy candidate in his primary, with 60 percent of voters saying he is honest and trustworthy in comparison to Marco Rubio's 72 percent, Jon Kasich's 65 percent and Ted Cruz's 62 percent.

    Although they are the least trusted candidates in the race, it may not heavily impact the front-runners, as voters on both the Republican and Democratic side did not select trustworthiness as the most important trait a candidate needs.

    Told to consider the Democratic nominee for President, Democratic and Democratic leaning voters said it was most important that the nominee "cares about the needs and problems of people like you."

    Being honest and trustworthy came second with 16 percent, closely followed by having strong leadership, which earned 15 percent.

    Faced with the same question, Republican and Republican leaning voters selected having strong leadership as the most important trait when thinking about the Republican nominee for President in 2016. Three points behind at 23 percent was being honest and trustworthy.

    Statistically speaking, at least in this race, being honest and trustworthy hasn't proven to be the most important thing after all.

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