Trump University: could a higher education scandal impeach a president?

John Morgan looks at what Trump U fraud claims could mean for US president-elect Donald Trump

November 11, 2016
Donald Trump pledge
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The US president-elect, Donald Trump, faces a civil trial in the fraud lawsuit against him over his now-defunct for-profit learning enterprise “Trump University”. Various elements of that statement might take a while to sink in.

The story – of former students saying that they were misled into believing that they would be taught by expert real estate tutors “hand-picked” by Trump – has been around since 2010 and was an issue in the presidential election campaign. Clearly, however, it was not that big an issue for plenty of voters.

But “Trump University” still matters.

The trial is scheduled to begin on 28 November in San Diego, although Trump’s lawyers are now pushing for the trial to be delayed until early next year – as he has some other stuff on.

The case is presided over by District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Trump, known for his rhetoric against Mexican immigrants, said during the campaign that Curiel was biased against him. “He’s a Mexican,” said Trump of the judge, born in Indiana to parents who had emigrated from Mexico.

Trump will surely seek to settle the case now that he is president-elect. Indeed, both parties have been urged to settle by Curiel.

But there is also a lawsuit against Trump University pending in New York, lodged by the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. That lawsuit says that the company violated New York law by using the title “university”.

“Through their deceptive and unlawful practices, respondents intentionally misled over 5,000 individuals nationwide…into paying as much as $35,000 each to participate in live seminars and mentorship programs with the promise of learning Donald Trump’s real estate investing techniques,” it adds.

There are a couple of things that we might take from the Trump U case. If Trump as president were to put up an “open for business” sign to the for-profit higher education industry, it would be consistent with his background in Trump U.

More significantly, potentially, University of Utah law professor Christopher L. Peterson has argued that the Trump U lawsuits could offer grounds to impeach Trump as president.

“The evidence indicates that Trump University used a systemic pattern of fraudulent representations to trick thousands of families into investing in a program that can be argued was a sham,” he said.

“Fraud and racketeering are serious crimes that legally rise to the level of impeachable acts.”

Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, tweeted during the campaign: “Trump U is devastating because it’s [a] metaphor for his whole campaign: promising hardworking Americans way to get ahead, but all based on lies.”

Whether Trump U is a metaphor for his presidency remains to be seen.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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Print headline: Might ‘Trump U’ fraud claims be cause for impeachment?

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