FactCheck: Trump's defense of his 'university'
Businessman Donald Trump has made false and misleading claims in response to attacks on "Trump University," a now defunct program that offered tips on real estate to paying customers.
Trump, who is campaigning for the Republican Party's nomination for president, made each of those claims during an interview Feb. 28 on "Fox News Sunday." Anchor Chris Wallace had asked Trump to respond to an ad from American Future Fund, an issue advocacy group, that features Sherri Simpson saying that the program she paid to participate in turned out to be "a fake."
Trump and his "university," which was never officially licensed as such and eventually had to change its name to The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative in May 2010, are the subjects of three ongoing lawsuits alleging fraud. One $40 million lawsuit was filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2013, and two other class-action lawsuits have been filed by former participants who paid thousands of dollars for the courses and are seeking reimbursement.
Wallace, Feb. 28: A super PAC that is opposed to you is running this ad. Take a look.
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Sherri: All of it was just a fake. America, do not make the same mistake that I did with Donald Trump. I got hurt badly and I'd hate to see this country get hurt by Donald Trump.
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Wallace: Now, Trump University ads promised that these instructors on your real estate genius would be handpicked by you but in fact, the story is that a lot of them were picked just so they could get people to sign up and one of them was a manager from a Buffalo Wild Wings. So did you handpick these instructors or not?
Trump: OK. Many of them we were handpicked and I handpicked top people. And the people I think did a good job. And they ran a good school.
And I'll tell you about the school. It had an "A" rating from the Better Business Bureau and the people I think that you even have on there have given a great report card, because everybody — just about everybody that took a course, almost everybody signed a document and they rated the school. …
Trump: Listen to me, 98 percent of the people that took — Chris, 98 percent of the people that took the courses, we have report cards from everybody. They report carded on the course.
Ninety-eight percent of the people that took the courses, 98 percent approved the courses, they thought they were terrific.
Better Business Bureau Rating
Trump told Wallace that his program "had an 'A' rating from the Better Business Bureau," a nonprofit organization that reviews millions of businesses by request and rates them on a scale from "A+ to F."
The BBB website does not currently list a rating for The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. It says that is "because BBB has information indicating it is out of business."
But, in a statement to a reporter with PolitiFact.com, a Better Business Bureau spokeswoman said that "over the years, the company's BBB rating has fluctuated between an 'A+' and a 'D-.' " The spokeswoman declined to say when the program received the "A+" rating.
However, the most recent rating that we could find for the program was a "D-" in 2010. That is based on news reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times in 2011, and the New York Daily News and the BBB's own website in 2010, as recorded by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
Instructors Not Handpicked by Trump
In a video promoting the old Trump University, which was formed as a for-profit company in 2004, Trump said that the educational program would have "professors and adjunct professors" that were "handpicked" by him.
Trump: We're going to have professors and adjunct professors that are absolutely terrific. Terrific people. Terrific brains. Successful. We're going to have the best of the best. And, honestly, if you don't learn from them, if you don't learn from me, if you don't learn from the people that we are going to be putting forward — and these are all people that are handpicked by me — then you're just not going to make it in terms of the world of success.
But Trump didn't personally select "all people" on staff, as he claimed in the promotional video, or even "many" of them, as he said during the recent interview on "Fox News Sunday."
Michael Sexton, the former president of Trump University, who was deposed in 2012 for a civil case against Trump and the real estate program, admitted that the course instructors were not personally approved by Trump.
Questioner, July 25, 2012: And were any of these other speakers at any of those events hand picked by Donald Trump?
Sexton: None of our instructors at the live events were hand picked by Donald Trump.
98 Percent Approval?
Trump's attorneys have created a website called 98percentapproval.com, which claims to provide "over 10,000 surveys from Trump University students demonstrating their overwhelming satisfaction with the program." The website states that "98% of Trump University students rated the program 'excellent.' " On Twitter, Trump says, "Trump University has a 98% approval rating."
That includes surveys filled out by Kevin Scott and Bob Guillo, two men who each spent more than $30,000 to attend seminars offered by "Trump University" and who are featured in separate ads also paid for by the American Future Fund. In the ads, Scott and Guillo voice their displeasure with having paid to take the classes and say that they were "scammed" by Trump and call him "a fraud."
In response, the Trump campaign has pointed out that both Scott and Guillo gave the program positive reviews, and the campaign has called on the American Future Fund to retract the advertisements.
While it may be the case that many attendees initially filled out positive evaluations, one of the class-action lawsuits alleges that the surveys were filled out under pressure or with the expectation that participants would receive additional benefits in the future.
Tarla Makaeff v. Trump University, complaint, Sept. 26, 2012: While Trump University's website has publicly claimed that 95% to 98% of students are satisfied with its course, this figure is far from the truth. While it may be true that Trump University received some positive ratings in surveys given to the students while the Seminars were in session or immediately afterward, at this point, many of the students actually still believe that they will eventually get the information and mentoring they need, since they have been promised a one-year apprenticeship or one-year mentorship. Also, these surveys are not anonymous, but have the students' names on them, and students are often reluctant to criticize the instructors and mentors who they have paid a lot of money to help them throughout the year. It is not until later, when students see that the help and information they need is never coming — that they realize they have been scammed.
As the Washington Post Fact Checker pointed out, Scott said that he gave his course instructor a positive review "because I did not think that the problems with the mentorship were his fault." Scott added that he told his mentor that "he was courteous and professional, but that I did not see any results."
Guillo, on the other hand, said that he gave his instructor a positive assessment "because I believed that that was the only way to get my Certificates of Completion for the seminars that I attended." Guillo stated that "the evaluations did not reflect my actual opinions on the courses."
So, Trump isn't telling the whole story when he says that "98 percent of the people that took the courses … thought they were terrific."