Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump doubled down on his debunked defenses of his embattled Trump University, a real estate seminar business, during the Fox News March 3 GOP debate. Trump once again claimed that the now-defunct Trump U. “has an 'A' rating from the Better Business Bureau” and misrepresented the status of pending lawsuits against the business. Fact-checkers have weighed in, once again, on Trump's defenses of Trump U., concluding that his claims are “false,” “literally wrong,” “inaccurate,” and “misleading.”
At March 3 Fox Debate, Donald Trump Doubled Down On Recent Defenses Of Defunct Trump U. Business
At March 3 Fox GOP Presidential Debate, Front-Runner Donald Trump Defended His Court-Embattled Trump University Business. In response to attacks from presidential rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at Fox News' March 3 Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump defended his now-defunct Trump University with a series of already debunked claims -- as well as several new statements -- about the business' approval ratings and the status of pending fraud lawsuits against the real estate seminar business. The debate featured several minutes of heated exchanges between Rubio, Trump, and moderator Megyn Kelly. Trump falsely claimed that Trump U. has an A rating from the Better Business Bureau; falsely stated that 98 percent of its students gave Trump U. a positive review; and misleadingly suggested that the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Trump U. was leaving the case because the claims against Trump U. are weak:
Now-Defunct Trump U. Faces Multiple Fraud Lawsuits, Drawing Credible Attacks From Rivals
NY Times: Trump University, Which Was “A Series Of Seminars Held In Hotels,” Faces Three Pending Lawsuits Alleging Misrepresentation. The New York Times described Trump University as “not a real university at all, but a series of seminars held in hotels across the country.” The now-defunct Trump University is currently facing multiple pending lawsuits brought by former students and by the state of New York, alleging misrepresentation:
The now-defunct Trump University, the subject of one of Marco Rubio's attacks on Donald J. Trump at the Republican presidential debate on Thursday night, was not a real university at all but a series of seminars held in hotels across the country that promised to share Mr. Trump's real estate investing acumen with students. It is still embroiled in lawsuits accusing it of misrepresentation.
Those who ultimately bought premium packages paid as much as $35,000 for the privilege of additional training, called mentorships and apprenticeships.
“Seventy-six percent of the world's millionaires made their fortunes in real estate,” Mr. Trump said in an email marketing blast sent to tens of thousands of potential customers. “Now it's your turn. My father did it, I did it, and now I'm ready to teach you how to do it.”
As many as 7,000 people across the country bought the sales pitch, spending an estimated $40 million. Both the State of New York and many of the students are now suing Mr. Trump for misrepresentation. Three cases are pending: one in New York brought by the attorney general and two in California, certified as class actions. [The New York Times, 2/26/16]
Politico: Trump Rivals Began “Seizing On Fraud Allegations” Stemming From Trump U. In Recent Weeks. As reported by Politico, at the GOP presidential debate held on February 25, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) both attacked Trump over the pending lawsuits against Trump University. Cruz specifically noted that the nature of the lawsuits meant that Trump may be required to testify in the case during the election cycle:
Donald Trump's Republican presidential rivals are seizing on fraud allegations made by former students of his Trump University to paint him as a sleazy businessman.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are trailing Trump in the polls, used the latest developments as an opening to attack Trump's character at the Republican debate Thursday night.
Rubio accused Trump of starting “a fake university” that people borrowed $36,000 to attend. “And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump,” Rubio said, echoing the complaints of some former students.
“It's a peanuts case, it's a very small case,” Trump said. Many students gave their Trump University courses high marks, Trump said, and they're just looking for their money back. Trump also claimed that “much of the case has already been won.”
But the class action case filed in California in 2010 by former students hasn't been resolved. No trial date has been set, but Trump's name has appeared on witness lists for both sides and court records indicate it could come to trial later this year.
“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,” Cruz said during the debate. “You don't think the mainstream media will go crazy on that?” [Politico, 2/26/16]
NY Times: Conservative Group Launches “Hard-Hitting Ads” That “Raise Questions” About Trump's “Honesty And Trustworthiness.” On February 26, The New York Times reported that the conservative group American Future Fund had begun launching a series of attack ads featuring former students of Trump University. In the ads, the students describe “having been lured into paying tens of thousands of dollars for business coaching that led nowhere.” The article noted that the ads target “an area [Trump's] critics have long perceived as a vulnerability, and his opponents have largely avoided” and that the ads aim to challenge Trump's “credentials as a businessman”:
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz assailed Donald J. Trump in the presidential debate on Thursday for his involvement in Trump University, a defunct educational company that triggered a massive fraud suit against Mr. Trump.
Now, voters are about to learn more about Trump University in television commercials.
The American Future Fund, a conservative nonprofit group, is preparing what a spokesman said is a multimillion-dollar ad campaign highlighting people who say they were ripped off by Mr. Trump's enterprise. The ads feature two men and one woman who describe themselves as having been lured into paying tens of thousands of dollars for business coaching that led nowhere.
The message of the ads appears to serve a dual purpose: to undercut Mr. Trump's credentials as a businessman, and raise questions in voters' minds about his honesty and trustworthiness.
One man featured in the ads, a retiree named Bob, says he was “scammed because I believed in Donald Trump.”
“Please don't fall for the same line that I fell for,” he says, adding of Mr. Trump, “He can make people believe, practically, anything.”
Sherri, a woman who is described as a single mother, says in another ad that she made a “huge mistake trusting” Mr. Trump, and said that all the promises Trump University made turned out to be “just a fake.” A third testimonial, from a young man named Kevin, may be the harshest.
“I spent about $30,000 on Trump University and, basically, all it did was ruin my credit and ruin my life,” he says, calling Mr. Trump “just a fraud, a misrepresentation.”
The exact scope and cost of the television campaign has not been announced, and the American Future Fund does not have to disclose its donors because it is registered as a nonprofit. But the hard-hitting ads strike Mr. Trump in an area his critics have long perceived as a vulnerability, and his opponents have largely avoided. [The New York Times, 2/26/16]
Trump Claim: Trump U. Has “An A From The Better Business Bureau”
Trump At March 3 Fox Debate: Rating From The Better Business Bureau Is “Right Now An 'A.'” During the March 3 GOP debate hosted by Fox, Trump responded to attacks from Rubio about his “fake university” business by once again claiming that Trump University had a current “A” rating from the Better Business Bureau. When confronted with evidence that the most recent available rating for the business was a D-minus, Trump repeatedly asserted that the real estate seminar business' rating had been “elevated” to a present rating of A (emphasis added):
TRUMP: We have an 'A' from the Better Business Bureau--
RUBIO: That's false.
TRUMP: We have a 98 percent approval rating of people who took the course--
RUBIO: That's false.
TRUMP: We have an A from the Better Business Bureau, and people like it. Now he's saying they didn't learn. We have many, many people that will be witnesses -- again, I don't settle cases. I don't do it because that's why I don't get sued very often. Because I don't settle, unlike a lot of other people. We have a situation where we will win in court. But many of the people that are witnesses did tremendously well and made a lot of money --
RUBIO: That's false.
TRUMP: -- by taking the course.
KELLY: Go ahead, Senator. [crosstalk]
TRUMP: You're going to see, you're going to see --
RUBIO: The Better Business Bureau gives a D-minus. It's a D-minus.
KELLY: Go ahead, it's Senator Rubio's turn --
TRUMP: No, no. It's wrong. No, no. Before they had the information --
RUBIO: It is a D-minus. Go on my website, MarcoRubio.com. We'll post it so they can see. It's a D-minus --
TRUMP: Before they had the information, Megyn, before they had the information--
KELLY: Senator Rubio, Senator Rubio, stand by. Let him finish his point quickly, and then I'll give you the floor.
TRUMP: Once they had the information, it got -- it is right now an A.
RUBIO: It doesn't exist anymore--
TRUMP: Once they had the information, it got switched. The only reason it was a D was because we didn't care, we didn't give them the information.
RUBIO: A third of the people who signed up asked for their money back --
TRUMP: When they got the information, it became an A.
RUBIO: A third of the people, a third of the people--
TRUMP: Oh, you don't know.
KELLY: With respect, with respect, we went back and looked at this.
KELLY: The rating from the Better Business Bureau was a D-minus. [crosstalk] That's the last publicly available rating in 2010, and it was the result of a number of complaints they had received--
TRUMP: It was elevated to an A.
KELLY: Just --
RUBIO: It was never elevated --
TRUMP: It was elevated to an A.
KELLY: That was never publicly released --
TRUMP: I can give it to you.
TRUMP: I can give it to you. I will give it to you tomorrow.
KELLY: Let's just bring the viewers up to speed. Let's just bring the viewers up to speed.
TRUMP: It was elevated to an A. [Fox News, Republican Debate, 3/3/16]
Previously, Trump Claimed On Meet The Press That Trump U. Has “An 'A' From The Better Business Bureau.” In an interview on the February 28 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked Trump about the debate attacks on Trump University and the shuttering of the program. Trump responded by repeatedly claiming, “We have an 'A' from the Better Business Bureau.” Trump also doubled down on his earlier claims about the status of the pending lawsuits against Trump University, saying about the pending New York lawsuit, “that case has been largely won by me.” [NBC, Meet the Press, 2/28/16]
Fact-Checkers: Trump's Claim About BBB Rating Is “False” And “Literally Wrong”
PolitiFact: Trump's Claim That Trump U. Has An “A” Rating From The Better Business Bureau Is “False,” “Literally Wrong.” A February 28 PolitiFact fact-check concluded that Trump's claim that his real estate seminar institute has “an 'A' rating from the Better Business Bureau” is “literally speaking ... inaccurate,” since the bureau does not rate defunct programs like Trump University. The article noted that the Trump University program had documented ratings ranging “from A+ to D-” and that it was rated a D in 2010, one of the last years Trump U. was in operation. Fact-checker Jon Greenberg concluded that Trump's claim was “false,” because it was both “literally wrong,” and because it ignored other, lower scores. Politifact doubled down on its conclusion that the claim was “false” in a second response after Trump repeated the claim at the March 3 debate:
Trump said about his entrepreneur institute that “we have an 'A' from the Better Business Bureau.” Literally speaking, that is inaccurate. The Better Business Bureau gives the program no rating today because it's no longer a going concern.
Trump University had an A at some point. The Better Business Bureau doesn't release details of its past ratings, but it did say Trump's program had ratings that ranged from A+ to D-.
What we do know, from several published reports and archived Web pages, is that the university had a D in 2010.
CNN's Reality Check: “Not True,” “School Received A D- In 2010,” But “Currently Has No Rating.” CNN.com's Reality Check team of reporters concluded that “both Trump and Rubio's claims” about Trump University's Better Business Bureau ratings were “false,” noting that the business “currently has no rating,” but that “media reports at the time say that the school did received a D- in 2010” (emphasis added):
Rubio has argued that Trump's namesake school, Trump University, is part of an elaborate con by the businessman. A key data point: its rating from the Better Business Bureau.
“We have an 'A' from the Better Business Bureau,” Trump said.
“That's false,” Rubio shot back, claiming it is actually a D-minus.
“It is right now an 'A.' Once they had the information, it got switched. The only reason it was a 'D' was because we didn't care, we didn't give them the information. When they got the information, it became an 'A.' ”
Trump pledged to “give” the information proving that his rating had been elevated.
As the moderators told him -- and Rubio argued -- the last available rating was indeed a 'D-minus.' The school, now known as the Trump Entrepreneur Institute, currently has no rating: “THE TRUMP ENTREPRENEUR INITIATIVE IS BELIEVED TO BE OUT OF BUSINESS!” the bureau's site reads.
Media reports at the time say that the school did receive a D- in 2010. And Katherine Hutt, a spokesman for the agency, told Politifact “that the company's BBB rating has fluctuated between an A+ and a D-.”
And the school has long been investigated by state agencies, including a $40 million lawsuit by the New York Attorney General's Office.
Trump's claim is that the school has an “A” “right now.” That is not true. It currently has no rating, even if that may indeed be because of the lack of information he provided.
But Rubio is also incorrect: It is not a D- now, even if it was previously.
We rate both Trump and Rubio's claims as false. [CNN.com, Reality Check, 3/4/16]
Wash. Post Fact Checker: Trump U. “Actually Earned A D- Before It Was Shut Down.” Fact-checkers at The Washington Post similarly noted that Trump University's most recent rating from 2010 was a D-minus, and noted that additional pushback from moderator Megyn Kelly on the business' approval ratings was accurate. [The Washington Post, Fact Checker, 3/4/16]
FactCheck.Org Concluded That “Trump Falsely Claimed That The Now Defunct Trump University Has An 'A' Rating From the Better Business Bureau.” Fact-checkers at FactCheck.org also reached the same conclusion as others, finding that Trump's claim that the business currently has an A rating was “false” and noting that “the most recent rating that we could find for the program was a D- in 2010.” FactCheck.org also noted that a spokesperson from the Better Business Bureau had said Trump University's rating “fluctuated between an A+ and a D-”:
Trump falsely claimed that the now defunct Trump University has an “A” rating from the Better Business Bureau, and he made the misleading claim that “we have a 98 percent approval rating from the people who took the course.”
The Better Business Bureau website does not currently list a rating for The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. It says that is “because BBB has information indicating it is out of business.”
But, in a statement to a reporter with PolitiFact.com, a Better Business Bureau spokeswoman said that “over the years, the company's BBB rating has fluctuated between an 'A+' and a 'D-.' ” The spokeswoman declined to say when the program received the “A+” rating.
However, the most recent rating that we could find for the program was a “D-” in 2010. That is based on news reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times in 2011, and the New York Daily News and the BBB's own website in 2010, as recorded by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
That suggests that the program was downgraded over a period of time from an “A+” to a “D-” rather than upgraded from a “D-” to an “A,” as Trump also claimed during the debate.[FactCheck.org, 3/4/16]
Trump Claim: “We Have A 98 Percent Approval Rating” From Students
At The March 3 Debate, Trump Repeated The Claim That Trump U. Has A “98 Percent Approval Rating Of People Who Took The Course.” At the March 3 GOP debate hosted by Fox, Trump responded to attacks from Rubio about his “fake university” business by once again claiming that Trump University has “a 98 percent approval rating of people who took the course,” and claiming that a pending lawsuit against the operation features many witnesses who “did tremendously well and made a lot of money” after taking the seminars:
DONALD TRUMP: We'll find out when we have the trial, by the way. Just so you understand -- this is a case I could've settled very easily. But I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right. 98 percent approval rating --
RUBIO: That's false.
TRUMP: We have an 'A' from the Better Business Bureau --
RUBIO: That's false.
TRUMP: We have a 98 percent approval rating of people who took the course --
RUBIO: That's false. [Fox News, Republican Debate, 3/3/16]
Fact-Checker: Evidence From Pending Lawsuit Shows This Claim Is “Misleading.”
FactCheck.org: Trump Is “Misleading” When He Claims 98 Percent Satisfaction, As Lawsuit “Alleges Surveys Were Filled Out Under Pressure.” FactCheck.org labeled Trump's claim that his defunct business had a “98 percent approval rating” from students as “misleading,” citing testimony from former students in sworn affidavits that they were misled about the purposes and consequences of filling out evaluation forms for the seminars. “One of the [pending] class-action lawsuits” against Trump U., the fact-checkers wrote, “alleges that the surveys were filled out under pressure or with the expectation that participants would receive additional benefits in the future” (emphasis added):
In addition, Trump's claim that “we have a 98 percent approval rating from the people who took the course” is misleading.
While it may be the case that many attendees initially filled out positive evaluations, one of the class-action lawsuits alleges that the surveys were filled out under pressure or with the expectation that participants would receive additional benefits in the future.
Tarla Makaeff v. Trump University, complaint, Sept. 26, 2012: While Trump University's website has publicly claimed that 95% to 98% of students are satisfied with its course, this figure is far from the truth. While it may be true that Trump University received some positive ratings in surveys given to the students while the Seminars were in session or immediately afterward, at this point, many of the students actually still believe that they will eventually get the information and mentoring they need, since they have been promised a one-year apprenticeship or one-year mentorship. Also, these surveys are not anonymous, but have the students' names on them, and students are often reluctant to criticize the instructors and mentors who they have paid a lot of money to help them throughout the year. It is not until later, when students see that the help and information they need is never coming -- that they realize they have been scammed.
For example, Kevin Scott, who paid more than $30,000 for the courses, said that he gave his instructor a positive review “because I did not think that the problems with the mentorship were his fault.” And Robert Guillo, who also paid more than $30,000 on the program, said that he gave his instructor a positive assessment “because I believed that that was the only way to get my Certificates of Completion for the seminars that I attended.” [FactCheck.org, 3/4/16]
Trump Claim: Leading Plaintiff In California Class-Action Suit Is “Now Getting Out Of The Case Because It's So Bad For Her.”
At The March 3 Debate, Trump Claimed A Plaintiff In Class-Action Suit Was “Getting Out Of The Case Because It's So Bad For Her.” Responding to moderator Megyn Kelly's statements about a pending California class-action lawsuit against Trump University and Trump's recently dismissed countersuit alleging defamation, Trump stated that the lead plaintiff in the case was “now getting out of the case because it's so bad for her.” He suggested that the case itself was weak and that the plaintiff may have changed her view on the seminar business:
KELLY: Let me just set the record, and then you guys can have at it. There was Trump University, which was a business that you started, and it was marketed to many people, and now there is a class action of over 5,000 plaintiffs against you, Mr. Trump.
KELLY: And it involves veterans. And it involves teachers. And it involves so-called little guys, working class and lower-working class, and middle class, who say that they were fleeced. Who say it was a scam. The class has been certified and, in the case, you counter-sued the lead plaintiff, alleging that you were being defamed. And that case was thrown out against her.
TRUMP: The lead plaintiff is now getting out of the case because, because it's so bad for her --
KELLY: But what happened was --
TRUMP: She signed a letter. Excuse me, the lead plaintiff signed a letter saying how great it was and is on tape saying how great it was.
KELLY: OK. Stand by. But what happened in that case was you counter-sued her. The court threw out your countersuit, made you pay almost $800,000 in legal fees of hers. And you made the same argument about 98 percent of the people being happy with Trump University and that woman in particular signing a survey saying she liked it while someone was standing over her shoulder.
TRUMP: She's getting out of the case. She's trying to get out of the case now because her case didn't hold up.
KELLY: And this is what the -- stand by -- and this what the court of appeals found. They said that the plaintiffs against you are like the Madoff victims.
TRUMP: Oh, give me a break.
KELLY: This is what the court of appeals said.
TRUMP: Give me a break.
KELLY: They found that “victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.” [Fox News, Republican Debate, 3/3/16]
Fact-Checker: She's Trying To Leave “Because Of The Media Frenzy Around Trump” And “His Lawyers Are Trying To Stop Her.”
Politico Wrongometer: Lead Plaintiff In “5,000-Person Class-Action Lawsuit,” Asking To Leave Because Of “Media Frenzy” And Trump's Lawyers Are Attempting To “Block The Move.” Politico education reporter Allie Grasgreen Ciaramella weighed in on Trump's claim from the March 3 debate that the lead plaintiff in a pending California class-action lawsuit against Trump University. She found that Trump's claim that the lead plaintiff is “now getting out of the case because it's so bad for her” misleadingly implied a “weak case” against the business. In reality, the plaintiff's lawyers wrote that the plaintiff did not want to subject herself to “the intense media attention and likely barbs from Trump and his agents and followers,” and Trump's lawyers “asked a judge to block the move”:
Donald Trump claimed at tonight's Republican debate that the lead plaintiff in a 5,000-person class-action lawsuit against Trump University “is now getting out of the case because it's so bad for her.”
The implication was that she has a weak case against him, but she's actually trying to leave because of the media frenzy around Trump--and his lawyers are trying to stop her. Tarla Makaeff's suit was filed in federal court in San Diego in 2010, and Makaeff now wants out because she never anticipated potentially testifying against the leading presidential candidate. “No one could have anticipated that he would become a viable presidential candidate and a 24/7 media obsession as this case neared trial,” Makaeff's lawyers wrote earlier this month. “Subjecting herself to the intense media attention and likely barbs from Trump and his agents and followers simply would not be healthy for her.” Trump's lawyers this week asked a judge to block the move, responding that Makaeff “brought this lawsuit, allowed herself to become the public poster child for it, and should be required to finish what she started.” [Politico, Wrongometer, 3/3/16]
Trump Previously Claimed He Had Won Most Of The Trump U. Lawsuit, Which Fact-Checkers Said Was “Just Not The Case”
Trump At Previous GOP Debate: “I've Won Most Of The Lawsuit.” In response to Rubio's allegations at the February 25 CNN GOP debate that Trump had started “a fake university” and was being sued by former students, Trump repeatedly claimed, “I've won most of the lawsuit.” [CNN, Presidential Debate, 2/25/16]
Wash. Post Fact Checker: Trump's Claim That He “Won Much Of” The Lawsuits Against Him “Misleading,” “Just Not The Case.” A February 27 article from The Washington Post's Fact Checker examined Trump's statements in defense of Trump University in which he claimed that he had “won much of” the lawsuits against the real estate seminar operation. Reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee concluded that Trump “goes too far downplaying the allegations,” and that his portrayal that the pending cases are largely resolved is “just not the case.” Lee also noted that previous court rulings on the matter have been favorable for both sides (emphasis added):
In true Trump fashion, he boasts that he “won much of” or “most of” the lawsuits against him over Trump University. But all three lawsuits are pending. Trump can claim some court rulings favorable to himself, but so can the plaintiffs.
Trump also creates a misleading characterization of the plaintiffs filing the lawsuit against him, saying they signed an evaluation praising the program but are suing them just to get their money back. The charges in the lawsuit originate from attendees' complaints that they were misled into paying tens of thousands of dollars for a mentoring and training program that didn't deliver what it advertised.
Trump goes too far downplaying the allegations, by saying most of it is already resolved. That's just not the case.
Three Pinocchios. [The Washington Post, Fact Checker, 2/27/16]