WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama arranged for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to receive a $15,000 donation in exchange for investigating Trump University, Donald Trump alleged in February in comments that were overlooked, likely due to the even more ridiculous and offensive remarks that he was making at the time.
Trump didn’t quite accuse Obama of handing Schneiderman an envelope with $15,000 stuffed in it. Instead, Trump said, Obama appears to have arranged a campaign contribution to Schneiderman from a law firm representing victims of Trump’s scam. (Like Trump’s usual claims, there’s no evidence to support this one.)
“The attorney general of New York meets with Barack Obama in Syracuse,” Trump said at a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas. “The following day he sues me. What they don’t say is, I believe, fifteen thousand or a lot of money was paid to the attorney general by the law firm in California that is suing me.”
While relaying his theory about Schneiderman and Obama, Trump told the crowd the judge in the case had “tremendous hostility, beyond belief ― I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine, he’s Hispanic, which is fine,” adding that he was considering asking the judge to recuse himself. (The media largely missed his comments, but Trump helpfully went to war with Judge Gonzalo Curiel again in June, and it made national news.)
Trump repeated his charge against Obama just moments later. “All of a sudden the attorney general ― his name is Eric Schneiderman, not respected in New York, doing a terrible job, probably is not electable in New York, but who knows ― and he meets with Obama, gets a campaign contribution, I think, I think it’s fifteen thousand dollars, and all of a sudden, he meets with Obama in, I believe, Syracuse, and the following day or two he brings a lawsuit against me.”
Trump’s math here gets a little fuzzy. Trump and Trump University are facing three lawsuits, not just one. The first suit was filed in California in 2010, by a woman named Tara Makaeff, who along with other plaintiffs, accused Trump University of fraud, breach of contract and false advertising. That case is moving forward.
The second class-action lawsuit in California was filed in 2013 by businessman Art Cohen. In this case, the complaint alleges that the “Live Events” sold by Trump University were never intended to teach attendees how to invest in real estate, they were merely meant to convince people to pay for more seminars. This case is scheduled to go to trial in late November, with jury selection starting a few weeks earlier.
The third case is the only one filed in New York, brought by Schneiderman in August 2013. It alleges that Trump University, Donald Trump, and former Trump University president Michael Sexton all engaged in “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct” in their running of the seminar company.
As for Trump’s claim that Schneiderman met with Obama and then “got a campaign contribution,” it’s pure fantasy.
In 2010, three years before Schneiderman sued Trump, and five years before Trump announced he was running for president, Schneiderman was running for state attorney general in New York. In October 2010, Schneiderman’s campaign received two separate contributions from lawyers at a California law firm, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd. One donation, for $5,000, came from partner Michael Dowd. Another contribution, for $10,000, came from Patrick Daniels, also a partner.
Six months earlier, in April, Robbins Geller Rudman and another California law firm jointly filed a class-action suit in California on behalf of customers who said they’d been defrauded by Trump University. At the time, Trump wasn’t a candidate for president, Schneiderman wasn’t attorney general and Gonzalo Curiel wasn’t the judge in the case. In fact, Curiel wouldn’t be appointed to the federal bench until 2012, two years after Trump’s case got underway in California.
How Trump leapt from these facts all the way to a secret payoff meeting between Schneiderman and Obama is vintage Trump. It’s as if he took all the things that happened over a six-year period, compressed them into one day and poured them into an extremely implausible John Grisham novel.
Trump’s charge is also a useful window into how he perceives the judiciary. Six months after Schneiderman filed suit against Trump in 2013, Trump filed a complaint accusing the attorney general of shaking Trump down for campaign contributions.
Revealed in the complaint was that Trump himself had donated $12,500 to Schneiderman’s campaign in 2010, more than either of the lawyers who Trump accused of trying to buy the attorney general.
Trump also claimed in his complaint that Schneiderman hit up Trump and his employees for more contributions after he was in office, and that Schneiderman “repeatedly approached members of Trump Org. at different fundraising and social events to assure them, unsolicited, that the investigation into [Trump University] was not something they needed to worry about, and that it would eventually go away on its own.” New York’s ethics commission reviewed Trump’s claims and voted not to pursue them.
Around that time, the fall of 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was deciding whether to follow New York’s lead and bring a case against Trump University. Bondi asked Trump for a contribution: Trump’s charitable arm gave Bondi $25,000, in September, and Bondi dropped the case. She now faces calls for a federal investigation into whether she took an illegal bribe.
This article has been updated to include Trump’s $12,500 contribution to Schneiderman’s campaign.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump