Hundreds of pages of court documents referred to Trump University, the for-profit school launched by Donald Trump, have been released by a federal judge. The documents were given to Tom Hamburger from The Washington Post who admits that the testimony can be divided into two groups – depositions from Trump executives, and “playbooks” – mostly marketing and strategy plans for selling courses and mentoring sessions to students. The emphasis in playbooks is made on promotion of the “Gold” level courses that cost nearly $35,000.
Almost all pages of the Trump University documents are marked “Confidential”. The information and instructions range from how employees should file expense reports to guides for making sales in various environments, from one-off preview events to three-day sessions.
The documents also contain guidance of dealing with news media. There are tips like “no matter how much confidence you have in Trump University, you should not say anything” or “remember, courtesy gets you a long way”.
The released documents of Trump University contain internal employee guides encouraging customers with little money to pay for the tuition with their credit cards. As the instruction claimed, “they teach the technique of using OPM … Other People’s Money”. Employees were taught to exploit the emotions of potential customers: “Let them know you’ve found an answer to their problems.”
The most striking documents were written testimony from former employees of Trump University who expressed their complete disapproval of the university’s tactics and culture. Corrine Sommer, an event manager, unveiled that employees had to encourage students to open up as many credit cards as possible to pay for classes despite the fact that many of them could not afford it. As the sales guide states “Money is never a reason for not enrolling in Trump University. If they really believe in you and your product, they will find the money.”
A sales manager from Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recalls the dissatisfaction he caused when he didn’t do his utmost to persuade financially struggling couple to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class when realized that it would endanger their economic future. He admits now that he felt disgust when he was observing how his colleague was convincing the couple to purchase the class anyway.
“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
In general former employees of Trump University describe it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.
The fact that documents from the university came to light casts a shadow on the reputation of Trump as a businessman. The release of the documents became the latest turn in a federal lawsuit, filed by dissatisfied former Trump University students in California.
Trump launched the university in 2005 and owned 93 percent of the now-defunct company. Definitely, he wasn’t a day-to-day manager but a chief promoter and head, selling the university as a tool of financial empowerment that would improve life for thousands of ordinary Americans. He promised that it will “teach you better than the best business school”.