Donald Trump acknowledged in two recent sworn depositions that he did not “hand-pick” any of the instructors at Trump University — one of whom was a convicted felon, according to new court filings in the case.
On the campaign trail in recent days, Trump has been vigorously defending the operations of Trump University, describing the lawsuits against the now defunct school as a “minor civil case” that he will win and that were brought by a “sleazebag law firm.”
But the new court filings in two of the cases in San Diego show the toll they have been taking on his time in recent months, as he was forced to sit for hours of closed-door grilling by plaintiffs’ lawyers on Dec. 10, 2015, and Jan. 21, 2016, even while running for president.
In the December deposition, lawyers for the plaintiffs — former students of the school who claim they were defrauded — repeatedly confronted Trump with the names of the instructors at the school and asked him what he knew about them. The issue is key in the case because the school’s promotional literature claimed that Trump had personally chosen them and that they were “the best of the best.”
“Learn from Donald Trump’s handpicked experts how you can profit from the largest real estate liquidation in history,” reads one of the school’s promotional brochures.
“Can you identify a single person who was a live events instructor for Trump University?” plaintiffs’ lawyer Jason Forge asked Trump at the Dec. 10 deposition.
“You’d have to give me a list,” Trump replied.
Forge then clicked off 49 names, asking Trump if he could identify if they had been students at the school or instructors. Trump testified that he couldn’t identify any of them, repeatedly giving answers such as, “Too many years,” “I don’t know” and, at one point, “Some of these names sound familiar to me. I don’t know.” Forge also showed Trump a photo lineup of former instructors, asking if he recognized any of them. “No. No, I don’t,” he replied.
One name that got attention in the depositions was James Harris, a former Trump University instructor. The lawyers for the plaintiffs introduced an exhibit in the case showing that, before he had been a Trump University real estate instructor, he had been convicted of aggravated assault in Georgia. Asked about Harris and if he was qualified to be an instructor, Trump replied, “I don’t know the people. I wasn’t running it.”
Jill Martin, a lawyer for Trump, said in a statement about the new court filings: “Mr. Trump’s deposition was simply Plaintiffs’ chance to elicit information in hopes of making a case. It does not contain Mr. Trump’s side of the case, which will be presented in court proceedings and which will demonstrate that plaintiffs’ lawsuit has no substance. 98% of the students, including the named plaintiffs themselves, rated Trump University’s programs as ‘excellent’ and stated during their depositions that the programs taught them valuable information.
“As for Mr. Trump, he retained highly qualified personnel to run the day-to-day operations after developing the content of the programs, which incorporated many of his business and real estate strategies and provided students with real-world examples based on Mr. Trump’s own real estate successes. In short, Trump University was a professionally run company which provided students with a valuable and substantive education and the tools to succeed in business and real estate. Those students that applied these strategies were overwhelmingly satisfied and many were able to make substantial profits.”
The dueling sides are headed for trial in one of the cases this spring or summer, with Trump slated to be a witness, according to court filings. In recent days, the candidate has claimed that the federal judge presiding over that case, Gonzalo Curiel, who has rejected Trump’s lawyers’ efforts to have the suit dismissed, is biased against him because he is Hispanic, and Trump’s lawyers may move to have him recused. But so far, according to the court filings, they haven’t done so.
(Cover tile photo: Carlos Osorio/AP)