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In the eye of legal storm battering Trump — and Trump U.

Donald Trump’s defunct “Trump University” real estate seminar business continues to garner controversy, especially after hundreds of documents were released this week detailing the aggressive tactics used by Trump employees. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the legal firestorm surrounding the business, and Hari Sreenivasan talks to Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    As he campaigns for votes, Donald Trump is also defending his business reputation.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the allegations and Trump’s defense of his business venture Trump University.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    This is about the Trump brand and the now-defunct business called Trump University that relied on the billionaire’s Donald Trump’s real estate brand, pledging that students would gain his knowledge.

    Three lawsuits on behalf of some students charge it was all a scam. Their voices are in this campaign ad from an anti-Trump conservative super PAC.

  • MAN:

    I spent about $30,000 in Trump University and basically all it did was ruin my credit and ruin my life. They didn’t really deliver on anything. Got to remember, there’s 5,000 victims in this. In the end, there’s no there there.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Today, though, a defiant Donald Trump tweeted that he’s instructed his execs to reopen Trump University after the lawsuits end. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is behind one of those lawsuits, which could go to trial as early as this year.

  • ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General, New York:

    It’s not a university. We have all sorts of rules and regulations to govern what’s allowed to be called a university and what’s not.

    Mr. Trump’s role was really as pitch man. The president of Trump University and Trump himself have both testified under oath that he didn’t meet the people who taught the seminar, so they weren’t his handpicked experts. In fact, they weren’t experts.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Two other suits are pending in California.

    Hundreds of pages of court documents were released this week in those actions, including the playbooks that Trump University staffers used. They refer not to students, but to buyers to whom the staff can sell more seminars costing up to $35,000 a pop. Maps, diagrams and detailed schedules direct salespeople on how to corral and convince people, including those who can’t afford it.

    At one point, the document advises — quote — “Money is never a reason for not enrolling. They will find the money.”

    The documents also contain searing depositions from former employees, one saying that he was reprimanded for not pushing a couple to mortgage their home. To all this, Trump has responded that most students were satisfied, releasing his own ad of success stories.

  • MAN:

    I wouldn’t have been able to do those deals without learning Donald Trump’s business techniques and real estate strategies, and I learned them all from Trump University.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Trump insists he is the victim of bias by federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who oversees the class-action suits in California. He’s the one who ordered the document release this week.

    But he said yesterday that some of those documents should have been withheld.

  • DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate:

    What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that is fine.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    In fact, Curiel is of Mexican descent, but was American-born in Indiana.

    In the middle of all this, Hillary Clinton, facing her own e-mail scandal, hopes to gain ground.

  • HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    He is trying to scam America, the way he scammed all those people at Trump U.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Voters will likely decide on Trump, and his political brand, before the courts rule on his business one. At least one court trial has been delayed, at Trump’s request, until after the election.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We get more on the controversy surrounding Trump University from Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post.

    So, Tom, what are we to make of the involvement that Donald Trump had with this specific company? He’s got his name on lots of companies all over the world.

  • TOM HAMBURGER, The Washington Post:

    That’s true. He’s become the expert at branding.

    In this particular case, Donald Trump eventually owned 93 percent of Trump University. And the documents that were released this week portray him as really the marketer in chief of this company. He’s very active in the marketing of the program, less active in doing one of the things he promised, choosing the instructors and going over the curriculum.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. So, how handpicked were the instructors? That’s part of the sell.

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Exactly.

    One of the claims made in Trump marketing material and by Donald Trump himself in a marketing video is that he, Donald Trump, handpicked the instructors who were going to teach basically his secrets and how to succeed in real estate.

    The realty is that Trump didn’t pick the instructors. The sort of star, even the marquee instructors’ names, he didn’t know, as revealed in depositions, and though he claimed he was handpicking them, he was really hands-off.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What do we know about these playbooks that Lisa referenced in her story? They reference everyone as buyers, not necessarily as students.

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Well, it’s quite clear from the documents that came through this weekend previously that Trump University was primarily focused on selling courses to potential buyers, to students.

    It was all about marketing and profits. The — that is the clearly-stated priority. It comes through in these employee handbooks or guides known as playbooks that were released this week. It’s — sell, sell, sell is the — is what it’s all about.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, what are the alumni of Trump U., Trump University, whatever they were called in different states, how do they feel about it? What are they saying?

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Well, we’re hearing, of course, from some of those who had paid money to Trump University to get trained in the Donald Trump real estate techniques were dissatisfied, and so dissatisfied that they filed a couple of class-action lawsuits, two in California, and the attorney general in New York was impressed by their complaints and filed a $40 million lawsuit in New York.

    It’s important to add that in the documents we saw this week, there were student evaluations and individual students who praised the program. So it’s not entirely unanimous, but the stories of complaints of people who feel they were defrauded or misled are legion. And the complaints they make in the documents we have seen are quite strong.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Donald Trump, as part of his defense, says, listen, I have got a lot of satisfied customers. They filled out a survey saying they were satisfied. They got what they felt like they paid for.

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Exactly right.

    And part of the document release this week included some of those surveys. Survey after survey showed students rating the courses that they took and their instructors at a five out of five, the highest possible rating. There are some who have criticized the sort of validity of those surveys, but they are there and it’s part of the evidence, part of the documentary evidence that was released by Judge Curiel this week.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What does the defense team, what does Trump’s team have to say about this? Or how do they plan to mount their defense in separate legal actions in different parts of the country?

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Well, there are a couple of things going on.

    Donald Trump spoke out last Friday in San Diego against the judge who sits in the Southern District of California, Judge Curiel, and said — described him as a biased guy, said he’s a Donald Trump hater, also identified him at one point, as I think your segment noted, as a Mexican.

    He, in fact, is born in Indiana and went to Indiana University Law School. So part of it is discrediting the judge. They suggest also — and Donald Trump has said this, as has his spokesperson, Hope Hicks — they’re confident they will win these cases. That’s one of the reasons they say they don’t want to settle. They want to go to trial, they have an abundance of satisfied graduates and the charges against them, if I can use the word, have been trumped up.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, well, no coincidence that he happens to be on a monitor right behind you in your newsroom.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Tom Hamburger joining us from The Washington Post right now, thanks so much.

  • TOM HAMBURGER:

    Thank you.

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