Inside The Trump University 'Playbook'

Salespeople were instructed to deliberately mislead potential customers and manipulate their emotions.
A federal judge has unsealed hundreds of documents related to a lawsuit over Trump University, detailing how its salespeople were instructed to mislead customers.
A federal judge has unsealed hundreds of documents related to a lawsuit over Trump University, detailing how its salespeople were instructed to mislead customers.
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Tuesday unsealed nearly 400 pages of documents related to a lawsuit over the for-profit Trump University, revealing the aggressive and predatory practices that Trump U. salespeople were encouraged to use on potential participants of the real estate seminar, which has been accused of being a scam.

The documents detail the internal "playbook" of Trump University, including information about how its salespeople were told to deliberately mislead potential customers, manipulate their emotions and ignore their concerns. Taken together, they represent a damning new window into the company that Trump closed in 2011 amid multiple investigations but has promised to revive.

At a Tuesday press conference at Trump Tower in New York, the presumptive GOP nominee continued his recent streak of bashing Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge who unsealed the documents. Trump called Curiel a “hater” who is “very unfair.” Asked why he continued to antagonize the judge and bring up his Latino heritage, Trump said, “Because I don’t care.”

Curiel is the judge in Art Cohen v. Donald J. Trump, a case alleging that Trump University committed fraud by promising people they were buying a top real estate education, when in reality the goal of Trump University was to sell people the most expensive version of an ineffective course.

Since he launched his presidential bid last year, Trump has offered conflicting accounts of his involvement with Trump University. In March, Trump defended the company during a debate, saying that its salespeople "did a good job" and that the program had an "A" rating from the Better Business Bureau. (The truth is a little more complicated.) Trump has also claimed in promotional videos that he hand-picked the instructors at Trump U.

The playbooks instruct salespeople to mention Trump by name in order to intimidate potential customers who are hesitant to spend thousands of dollars on a Trump University product. "Mr. Trump will not listen to excuses," the playbook tells salespeople to say, "and neither will we."

In another scenario, salespeople are instructed to berate potential customers, telling them, "You've had your entire adult life to accomplish your financial goals... and you're not even close to where you need to be."

Trump University

But according to more than 5,000 former Trump University customers, it wasn't their plans that were flawed -- it was the Trump U. business model itself. Many of the former students now suing Trump say they were pressured into spending money they didn't have on Trump University products.

The playbook instructed Trump University employees on how to target potential customers with bad credit. “What most people do,” reads one prompt, “is handle the tuition by putting it on their credit cards because it gives them the ability to make very small monthly payments and maintain a low overhead to run their real estate project.” Later on, it says, they can “use their success in real estate to pay off the banks in a couple of months or so.”

“However, you don’t seem to have the advantage of having that kind of leveraging power,” the pitch continues. “Do you have any other seed capital or savings set aside to further invest into your real estate projects?”

Trump University

The playbook also emphasizes the need to collect key financial information from potential customers. Salespeople were instructed to find out if clients were single parents who “had three children that may need money for food,” for example, or if they were a “middle-aged commuter.”

Trump University

A section of the books called the "Creative Financing Retreat" includes lessons on how to use credit cards and retirement accounts to pay for "real estate investments" -- chiefly, the Trump University course.

"If a seller will take $10,000 down on a fixer-upper that you expect to make $20,000 on, why not use credit cards?" reads one prompt.

“Check with a tax attorney to see how you might borrow from your own retirement account to finance real estate investments,” reads another.

Another section, on the “Multi-Family & Commercial Real Estate Investment Retreat,” promises that students will learn how to “take full advantage of tax breaks and other financial shelters, allowing you to maximize your profits.”

According to the documents, it seems the only kind of person Trump University didn't want attending its sales pitches were journalists.

"Reporters are rarely on your side and they are not sympathetic," reads a section on how to deal with the media. "No matter how much confidence you have in Trump University, you should not say anything" to a journalist.

Trump University

In 2012, Ronald Schnackenberg, a former sales manager at Trump University, testified that he'd been "reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class," even though he believed the class would do more financial harm than good for the couple, according to The New York Times.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, according to the Times, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

Schnackenberg's 2012 deposition was made public on Tuesday.

Trump did not immediately comment on the new documents Tuesday, and a spokeswoman for the campaign did not respond to an inquiry from The Huffington Post.

This story has been updated with information about Schnackenberg's testimony.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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