A hard-sell con that cleaned out its desperate victims: behind the $25,000,000 Trump University settlement

Victims of the Trump University con were roped in by an initial free class endorsed by "the most celebrated entrepreneur on earth" that would, in Trump's words, "turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you."

The marketing materials said that Trump reviewed the curriculum and picked the instructors, but the president-elect didn't do either — instead, he let other people do the homework and then he took the credit for it. The "instructors" were really ropers for a deeper con: their job was to evaluate attendees to figure out just how much money they could raise — for example, by borrowing from family and maxing out their credit cards — and then hard-selling them to attend "seminars" that would clean them out.

This was laid out in writing, in a document called the "Trump University Playbook" that told employees it was their job to push the victims to go into debt to pay for more courses. The tactics set out in the playbooks are a mix of a timeshare hustler's hard-sell and cult tactics that will be familiar to students of Scientology and similar ripoffs.

Ronald Schnackenberg, one of Trump University's salesmen, filed an affidavit in the case that revealed that he was reprimanded for refusing to pressure a disabled man into borrowing money to attend a $35,000 seminar, though he believed that the man couldn't afford it. This prompted him to quit.

Clinton's press secretary Brian Fallon nailed it when he wrote, Trump U is devastating because it's metaphor for his whole campaign: promising hardworking Americans way to get ahead, but all based on lies."

Trump has paid his victims $25,000,000 (though he repeatedly claimed that he doesn't settle lawsuits)*, and he claims that he could have won if he'd stayed in court**, but didn't want the distraction hanging over his presidency.

In fact, Trump hadn't handpicked the instructors, and he didn't attend the three-day seminars. Moreover, the complaint said, "no specific Donald Trump techniques or strategies were taught during the seminars, Donald Trump 'never' reviewed any of Trump University's curricula or programming materials, nor did he review any of the content for the free seminars or the three day seminars." So what were the attendees taught? According to the complaint, "the contents and material presented by Trump University were developed in large part by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and Seminar and timeshare rental companies." The closest that the attendees at the seminars got to Trump was when they were encouraged to have their picture taken with a life-size photo of him.

[John Cassidy/New Yorker]

* He does

** He's wrong