Donald Trump's Scamworld playbook isn't unique
Note: I've added A LOT of content and links since first publishing this post on May 31. At this point it's still best to just consider this post a work in progress.
As I mentioned in passing in a blog post on April 29, 2016, US presidential candidate and enemy of the First Amendment Donald Trump has been whining about some civil lawsuits against his fraudulent flopportunity Trump University, claiming the cases (and there are actually two of them under the judge he is scapegoating)* are going forward only because a "Spanish" or"Hispanic" judge had it out for him.
Subsequent whines became progressively more ranty and bigoted-sounding as Drumpf railed against the "Mexican" judge, Gonzalo Curiel of the U.S. District Court -- a man who was born in Indiana and as a citizen of the United States is technically not Mexican. In fact Judge Curiel has been a very strong and brave fighter against the Mexican drug cartels. And contrary to the claims of the neo-con alarmist nitwits who are also vilifying the judge, he does not have ties to a radical "pro-Mexican" group.
But never mind that. Trump has repeatedly said of the "Mexican" judge, "...I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He's a hater."
Whether the rants influenced Judge Curiel or not, the judge has unsealed documents related to the one of the cases.
As Politico noted:
It's unclear whether Curiel knew of Trump's latest volley of attacks when the judge issued the order Friday afternoon, but it seems possible. Curiously, the Republican candidate laid into Curiel at about the same time the judge was holding a hearing less than a mile away on a motion by The Washington Post seeking unsealing of the Trump University-related files. The judge's order was released a couple of hours after the hearing.Trump has made noise about moving to recuse Curiel from the suits, but as of the day of the Politico writeup from which the above quotation was pulled, his lawyers had not yet brought such a motion.
Even though some of his allies, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have winced at the remarks about Curiel, Trump has not backed down, not only sticking by but escalating his rhetoric against the judge, and continuing to call for his recusal. It's all about the Rule of Trump versus the Rule of Law. The possible consequences of Trump having his way on this matter are pretty scary to contemplate. Trump's insistence is absurd on its surface anyway. Should female judges not be allowed to preside over cases involving alleged male rapists? Should African-American judges not be allowed to preside over cases against white racists? It seems to me (and to others who know much more about the law than I do) that the judge would be within his rights to slap Trump with contempt, but he probably won't, and in fact he has postponed the trial on the case that he had cleared for trial until after the election.
And in case you are wondering, the reason Judge Curiel has not yet spoken out in his own defense is that he is bound by the judicial code of ethics, which precludes a judge making public comment about the merits, or lack thereof, of a pending case.
The case of the disappearing plaintiff
Trump has actually been bitching about Curiel for a couple of years now, since long before the judge's latest actions. Currently Trump bases his public anti-Curiel rants mostly on the judge's Mexican heritage (because of that whole Wall thing, y'know). One complaint he has made, most recently on CBS's Face the Nation on June 5, is that the case (though he didn't specify which one, it is the Low (formerly Makaeff) case) should have been dismissed when the plaintiff's lawyers asked that the originally top-named plaintiff be removed, and the judge agreed. That should have been the end of it, insisted Trump... but the judge is "Mexican!" And Trump wants to build that Wall. It's so unfair, don't you know.
Trump did not mention that the woman who had been removed in the referenced case -- he didn't name her but she is Tarla Makaeff -- had only been removed recently, by her own request, because she said she was sick of being publicly harassed by Trump. Obviously there were plenty of other plaintiffs in the case, and sufficient contested points to move it forward. But Trump tells a different story. On Face the Nation he said that the plaintiffs' lawyers had decided that this woman was a "terrible witness" and that she had fallen apart during her deposition, and that any judge who wasn't a Donald Trump hater would consequently have seen that the whole case was invalid and would have thrown it out.
Trump also insisted that Ms. Makaeff had previously written glowing reviews of Trump U, as had thousands and thousands of other folks, according to him. What he didn’t mention, perhaps because he doesn’t know, is that people at Scamworld events such as these, particularly pricey events, often write those reviews while in the throes of event afterglow, and often it’s because they’re strongly encouraged (manipulated/coerced) into doing so, and also because they are trying desperately to convince themselves that they didn’t just throw hundreds or thousands of their hard-earned dollars down the toilet.
More to the point here, the article about Tarla Makaeff that I linked to above (here is that link again) addresses the matter of her formerly positive reviews.
One of the key Trump attacks against Makaeff center on videos of her praising Trump University when she was a student.In March 2016 Judge Curiel granted Makaeff's request to remove her name from the litigation, apparently agreeing with her that she had suffered undue stress from Trump's attacks on her character and his attempts to silence her via a (failed) counter-suit. But the judge did allow her to remain on the case as an unnamed plaintiff, eligible for any moneys that may be collected should the plaintiffs prevail. Clearly Judge Curiel simply examined the evidence and saw sufficient reason to warrant moving the case forward. From what I have seen, the content in those unsealed documents tends to support his decision. As do the complaints from numerous former "students" about the utter scamminess of the operation.
But her lawyers argued that she didn't realize at the time that she and other students had been deceived by false promises from Trump University, and because the school had promised students it would continue to provide contacts and other assistance on future real estate deals.
The court agreed with that argument when dismissing Trump's counterclaim against Makaeff. It ruled two years ago that "as the recent Ponzi-scheme scandals involving onetime financial luminaries like Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford demonstrate, victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced."
Closing the barn door after the horses have escaped
In light of the content of those documents, it is no surprise that the Trump attorneys had been fighting to keep them sealed, citing "trade secrets," the release of which they claim could harm new incarnations of the scam that may be launched once the court cases have been resolved. But Judge Curiel poo-pooed the notion of a new and improved Trump U, and said that besides, much of that proprietary information is already public anyway.
Indeed, Politico published one of the Trump U playbooks back in March of this year, though Trump U playbook content had actually been leaked as early as 2014, as noted by The Atlantic. From Politico:
The book told employees to collect financial information from those who attended and rank them by their liquid assets to see who could afford more coursework. And staffers kept hotel ballrooms at a precise temperature — no more than 68 degrees — at the expensive real estate seminars.The link to the PDF of the 2010 playbook is embedded in the quotation above, but here it is again in case that link doesn't work. As appalling as it may seem if you're not somewhat familiar with these types of schemes, this is in many ways a typical Scamworld playbook, with every detail covered: from the temperature of the room, to the positioning of the chairs, to the grilling about participants' assets, and it was all orchestrated to ensure maximum coercion and money extraction.
These details and scores of others are embedded in thousands of pages of documents that comprise the lawsuits attacking a set of education courses GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has boasted about.
Among many other things the playbook outlined methods of suckering attendees of free sessions into buying a $1,495 ticket to a three-day workshop. That workshop was promoted at the free sessions as providing everything participants needed to start getting rich. It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Scamworld tactics that the $1,495 classes were not all-inclusive after all, but were merely conduits for upselling. The playbooks urged the sales team to aggressively promote classes with a "mentor," which could cost between $9,995 and $34,995, presumably depending upon how much the marks had in liquid a$$ets.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones weighed in with a piece titled, "Trump U Records Unsealed, And It's Not a Pretty Sight." Among other sources he quoted a piece in the Washington Post, regarding Trump's involvement in the scam.
Donald Trump was personally involved in devising the marketing strategy for Trump University, even vetting potential ads, according to newly disclosed sworn testimony from the company’s top executive taken as part of an ongoing lawsuit....“Mr. Trump understandably is protective of his brand and very protective of his image and how he’s portrayed,” Michael Sexton, Trump University’s president, said in the 2012 deposition. “And he wanted to see how his brand and image were portrayed in Trump University marketing materials. And he had very good and substantive input as well.”And then there's this from the New York Times, and it will be very familiar to any of you who have followed the saga of imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau's big fraud, the Global Information Network (GIN) -- or any of the other sad Scamworld stories so diligently covered by bloggers such as Salty Droid for years.
Corrine Sommer, an event manager, recounted how colleagues encouraged students to open up as many credit cards as possible to pay for classes that many of them could not afford. “It’s O.K., just max out your credit card,” Ms. Sommer recalled their saying.According to a separate deposition Trump did not personally select instructors and "faculty" members for his "university," even though the promotions for Trump U had clearly stated that they had been "handpicked" by him, with Trump himself saying as much in some of the ads. He was certainly involved in crafting the ads, and clearly the scam company eagerly leveraged Trump's celebrity status, with his approval. It was all about the Trump brand.
....Ms. Sommer recalled that a member of the Trump University sales team, who had previously sold jewelry, was promoted to become an instructor. He had “no real estate experience,” she said. She added that many of the instructors had the quality that the school seemed to value most: “They were skilled at high-pressure sales,” she said.
The 2014 Atlantic piece I linked to above (here is that link again) concluded:
Even though Trump University is facing two multi-million dollar fraud lawsuits, Donald Trump continues to defend his educational efforts, calling Trump University “a terrific school that did a fantastic job.” But if Trump had read his school’s own playbook, he might have foreseen the likely outcome of running a university with comically lax standards. At one point, the playbook advises Trump staffers: “If a district attorney arrives on the scene, contact the appropriate media spokesperson immediately.”But Attorneys General should be okay, as long as they're from Texas or Florida. More on that in a moment.
Hypocrisy, thy name is Drumpf
Apart from being a scam, Trump U was yet another example of Donald Trump's hypocrisy. On June 2, David Corn at Mother Jones wrote about the big con behind Trump's phony university, citing several instances in which Trump clearly said that success in business and in life owes more to intrinsic factors than to anything else. In other words, Trump doesn't really believe that success can be "taught." From the article:
Trump, who has campaigned as a champion of the little guy, has often stated his belief that only certain humans have the potential to be achievers. In a video for a 2006 book he co-wrote, Why We Want You to Be Rich, Trump was asked, "Do you think anybody can be rich?" His answer was no, and, in explaining this, he dumped on the most famous line of the Declaration of Independence:
No, I don’t think anybody can get rich. I think unfortunately the world is not a fair place. I think you have to be born with a certain intelligence. And it doesn't have to be a super intelligence, it has to be a certain intelligence. You can't take somebody that's not a smart person and say, "By the way, this is what you do, and here's your little card, and you're gonna follow these rules and regulations and you're gonna become a rich person." The world is not fair. You know they come with this statement "all men are created equal."
Well, it sounds beautiful, and it was written by some very wonderful people and brilliant people, but it's not true because all people and all men [laughter] aren't created—now today they'd say all men and women, of course, they would have changed that statement that was made many years ago. But the fact is you have to be born and blessed with something up here [pointing to his head]. On the assumption you are, you can become very rich.
Trump's all-folks-are-not-created-equal view was nothing new. In a 1990 Playboy interview, he noted that when it came to success, "I'm a strong believer in genes." Years later, in a CNN interview, Trump noted, "I think I was born with a drive for success. I had a father who was successful. He was a builder in Brooklyn and Queens. And he was successful and, you know, I have a certain gene. I'm a gene believer. Hey, when you connect two racehorses, you usually end up with a fast horse. And I really was, you know, I had a good gene pool from the standpoint of that." And at a Trump rally earlier this year in Biloxi, Mississippi, the mogul proclaimed, "I have Ivy League education, smart guy, good genes. I have great genes and all that stuff which I'm a believer in."But...
That was not the message of Trump University. Its ads promised that its students—who paid up to $35,000 for courses—would learn Trump's "secrets" for amassing wealth and be taught how to apply them right away. "Above all," Trump said in the promotional video for this business, "it's about how to become successful." The pitch essentially said this: Anyone can do it. Yet Trump has frequently indicated that he doesn't really buy that. Instead, you need good genes, Trump-type genes, to succeed and score big in this not-everyone-is-created-equal world. In that case, there's not much point in trying to teach inferior Trump wannabes to be like the superior Trump, unless your aim is to redistribute wealth—from them to you. But, in keeping with Trump's elitist belief in the power of genes, this setup might be called financial Darwinism. (To the guys with the good genes go the spoils—and the cash!) And soon the courts will determine if it's also fraud.
Just another day in Scamworld
The same day the Drumpf U documents were unsealed, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman slammed Trump U as being "phony" and "shameless." Schneiderman subsequently appeared on Morning Joe on June 2 to discuss his ongoing lawsuit against Trump U, which is a separate one from the California case that spurred the release of the potentially damning documents. Writing for the Washington Post, Greg Sargent noted that Trump had been caught in yet another fib.
The quote from Schneiderman that drove some buzz today is the one in which he claimed that Trump University was “fraud,” and added that Trump had privately offered to “settle” the lawsuit with New York’s Attorney General. If true, this contradicts Trump’s previous claim that he has not sought to settle the lawsuit “out of principle.” After all, only a big loser would settle a lawsuit, while winners like Trump win them, right?Gosh. If only the New York AG had been as cooperative (or cheap whore-ish, perhaps) as those in Florida and Texas, both of whom chose not to pursue action against Trump U, and both of whom received political donations from Trump -- $25,000 to the Florida AG and $35,000 to the Texas AG who was running, and won, the gubernatorial seat. Texas' current AG, Ken Paxton, is actively trying to shush the conversation about the decision by the office of former AG and now-Gub'ner Greg Abbott not to pursue the case. And more information has resurfaced about Florida AG Pam Bondi, who apparently asked Trump for a donation before she stopped the fraud case. And to keep the circle jerk unbroken, both Bondi and Abbott have endorsed Trump.
But I think another quote from Schneiderman deserves some attention: He noted that a lot of the victims of Trump’s alleged scam were people who had come to the school amid a dark period in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when they were desperate to find a way to make money.
So there's that. And there's also the fact that even though the former Trump University LLC, now known as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative LLC -- was shut down years ago, Drumpf is still earning a little pocket change from it.
But...yawn. I don't expect that this blatant proof of Donald Trump's Scamworld creds will faze most of his shouting, cheering, red-hat-wearing worshipers and hatriots. Many are already shrugging it off with the rationalization that the techniques in the playbooks are just par for the course with sales training in any industry. "What's the big deal?" they say. "Hillary's the real criminal! Make America great again!" It is actually a big deal, but most of Trump's supporters probably won't think it is.
Moreover, as I've griped about several times previously (such as here), and as Salty Droid has noted many times over the years, few people in the media or outside of it seem to really care much about the bigger Scamworld picture, of which Trump U is but one piece. For instance, I'm pretty sure that Tony Robbins, the reigning king of Scamworld, has his own playbooks that use much of the same manipulation/coercive persuasion techniques to sell and upsell and up-upsell his pricey seminars. (I wouldn't be surprised if some of the folks behind the Trump U scam were Robbins graduates.) And Robbins has his own money-mastering infofrauducts and flopportunities. However good his intentions may seem to many who are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Tony Robbins is pretty much a flopportunistic huckster who apparently has no qualms about allying himself to the scum of the Internet. But at least he doesn't appear to buy into the idea that Trump's legendary business acumen qualifies him to be president.
The point is that these types of scams go on and on and on and on and on, and for the most part very little is done about them. The fallout from the scams is good for an occasional feature piece or "expose," especially if there's a high-profile player and/or a lawsuit involved... and then it's back to business as usual, with the media often playing their own parts in perpetuating the scams (e.g., by running scammers' infomercials and other more cleverly disguised paid content, and by playing softball on "investigative" pieces).
So I think that Steve Benen, speculating on the Rachel Maddow blog that the Trump U brouhaha has turned into a full-fledged scandal for which there is no defense, may be exaggerating the case. And Benen, like most of the other reporters and commentators covering this matter, doesn't seem to realize that the real story isn't that one of a front-running presidential candidate's companies is a scam. The real story -- and the real outrage -- is that this type of scam isn't all that unusual. It's horrible, it's disgusting, and good people get screwed, so Trump should not be given a pass by any means... but it happens all the time.
Furthermore the media seem to have turned their attention away from another big Trump boondoggle: the Trump Network multi-level marketing (MLM) scams, which received a spate of attention for a while earlier this year, but since then seem to have slipped back into the shadows. And few of those covering the scams correlated them to the much larger MLM scourge in this country. As usual, Salty Droid got it, years ago.
I'm not trying to trash the mainstream media; I'm just saying they could do a better job. Some are moving in the right direction. A more mainstream journo who also seems to get it, at least regarding Trump U, is Charles P. Pierce, writing for Esquire in a June 2 piece titled, "Always Remember, We Live in a Nation of Scammers" :
If there is a single, overriding question in the unfolding Trump University scandal, however, it is this: Why in god's name is anyone surprised?Corporate America is held aloft by scams and scammers, and it goes far beyond the selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality/alt-health industries that are the normal beat of this blog. Again, Salty Droid got that too (and hopefully will be writing more about it in future posts on his new and improved site). Here he is in November 2015:
Of course, the fact that He, Trump was behind this scam is prima facie evidence of some thoroughgoing shenanigans, but that's not what I mean. He, Trump is an apex bunco artist, but he also is a high-profile American corporate businessman of the late 20th century.
But I repeat myself.
Bernie Sanders gets roasted in some quarters for saying this, but it's true—for going on 40 years now, the primary business model for the American corporate class has been fraud. What we're getting a peek at now with the Trump University is indeed garish in its contempt for the suckers, but what it's not is surprising.
Scamworld isn’t creeping upward toward the real world in an effort to increase its reach/credibility. Scamworld is just the trickle down of the devastating devotion to lies and corruption that form the basis of the real world.And here's Pierce again on the June 2 Esquire piece:
This isn't cynicism. This is the universe of our politics today, and it has been for almost four decades now. There are those In The Know and there are the suckers. There's nobody in between any more, and it's certainly not the government. Too often, the government is on one side while pretending to be on the other.
So, yeah, it's a goddamn shame what Trump University did to those poor people and I hope they sue him for everything, including his socks and underwear. But please, don't ask me to be shocked. This is the world we live in. The American democracy is becoming the longest con of all.All things considered, though, I doubt that the newly revealed docs will do "irreparable harm" to Trump's campaign, though I would seriously love to be proven wrong on this one.
Many folks probably see nothing wrong with the Trump U "business" model
I acknowledge that my candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton, does not escape the pen of Esquire's Charles Pierce, who cites those infamous Goldman Sachs gigs. Many loyal Trump subjects who are outraged about Hillary's high-dollar speeches to Goldman Sachs, the shenanigans of Bush and Cheney, and the several other examples listed in the Esquire piece linked to above, simply don't see their king as being part of the crony-capitalist political system.
And I think that is largely because they identify with Trump on some level. When attempting to project the real damage (or lack thereof) that the Trump U mess will do to his presidential campaign, we have to take into consideration the "like attracts like" phenomenon that I wrote about late last month. Not only does Donald Trump attract haters and a variety of narcissists and psychopaths (like not-Doctor Leonard Coldwell on both the "hater" and "narcissist/psychopath" counts), but he also attracts one-percenter wannabes and scammers who admire his success (again, the notorious not-doc Lenny fits into these categories), and for whom rationalization about the Trump U documents most likely won't even be necessary.
"Mr. Las Vegas" himself, Wayne Newton, showed that he understood the wannabe principle when he voiced his support for Trump last October on Fox & Friends.
“I love Donald, and he would make a great president,” Newton told hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Steve Doocy, and Brian Kilmeade.But mainly Mr. "Danke Schoen" loves The Donald because "he tells it like it is."
“Number one, he tells the truth,” said Newton. “Number two, he’s been where most of these guys want to be, in terms of riding on his own plane. He doesn’t have to worry about what hotels he stays in, he doesn’t have to worry about how his family gets to Hawaii, so on and so forth.”
Yet another scammer (and wannabe) who comes to mind is embattled "life coach" and long-time grifter Coral Grant, a Trudeau cohort (or, more accurately, Trudeau suckup) who is currently facing a fraud lawsuit of her own, though you'd never know it to see her cheerful Facebook posts. At the moment Coral and her co-grifter, hubby Mac Grant, are scamming through a company called Best Life Coaching Society, but that could change at any moment. They are promoting their Subconscious Release Technique, which is probably exactly what it sounds like: a way to get you to release all of your money to them without even being aware of it. Anyway, Coral has made no secret that she's a yuuuuge Trump supporter who seems to be trying to suck up to The Donald the way she did Trudeau, and who soooo looks forward to seeing Drumpf make America great again, and who recently got all teary-eyed by a pro-Trump propaganda vid that attempted to make her idol seem like the greatest humanitarian who ever walked the Earth.
So again, I think that for the most part the Trump U flap won't make a bit of difference to the Trumpians, who will defend their idol no matter what happens. Depending upon how the lawsuits go, the "scandal" might possibly put a slight damper on some Scamworld schemes, since Trump is such a high-profile example. Possibly it will lead to reforms in the industry... oh, who am I kidding?
Certainly I am glad that the fraud that was Trump U, and that may possibly be a slightly more subtle version of Trump U in the future, is getting some mainstream attention again, and that Trump in general is garnering more critical media attention now. But at this point I think that Paul Waldman's Washington Post opinion piece is a little overly optimistic in its projection that journalists' efforts to (finally) crack down on Trump will significantly harm the Trump campaign. After all, Trump is a powerful demagogue, and as the media light becomes ever harsher and Trump hollers more loudly about the unfairness of it all, it is far more likely that he will be able to turn his ardent admirers against the media (even more so than they are already) than that the media coverage will turn them against him.
But still. It is possible that a few people will wake up, and those on the fence may be convinced that putting the dangerously narcissistic Trump -- a man who truly is too sick to lead -- in the most powerful position on the planet is a horrifying idea.
NOTE (with important links):
Here is a link to a page on the web site of the law firm handling the Low (formerly Makaeff) and Cohen class action lawsuits. It hasn't been completely updated but it has some useful history, devoid of sensationalist headlines and editorializing.
And here is a link to another page, which includes information about the Cohen lawsuit in which civil RICO has been invoked. This page has a link to a portal that will lead you to numerous important court documents in both of the cases in which Judge Gonzalo Curiel is involved. (Also read their FAQ page.)
For those who have jumped on the "Trump is going to prison over RICO charges" bandwagon, hold on to your horses. It probably isn't going to happen. Civil RICO is, as my friend Max noted on a Facebook conversation, easy to invoke but very hard to prove. Besides, technically speaking, the word "charges" only applies to criminal cases, not civil, and at this point it seems unlikely that either one of these civil cases will become criminal ones, and highly unlikely that Trump will be imprisoned for anything. (Here's Ken White at Popehat lawsplaining about the ridiculous overuse of RICO accusations.) Frankly, I don't want to see Donald Trump in prison. But I damn sure don't want to see him in the Oval Office.
PS added on 8 June 2016: In another comical development, Drumpf is now denying that he ever attacked Judge Curiel's ethnicity, and he has vowed to shut up about Trump U and the judge. We'll see how long that lasts.
* The lawsuits over which Judge Gonzalo Curiel is presiding are known as Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump, Case No. 3:13-cv-02519 (the Nationwide Action) and Low, et al. vs. Trump University, LLC, et al., Case No. 3:10-cv-00940 (California/Florida/New York Action). In May 2016, the name of the Makaeff Action was changed from Makaeff, et al. vs. Trump University, LLC., et al. to Low, et al. vs. Trump University, LLC., et al.
~ Source: Trumpuniversitylitigation.com
Drumpf continues his hate-hate relationship with the press. As well, the man whom his supporters have so passionately embraced for not being beholden to corrupt Wall Street interests has been revealed, in one of the media that have been banned from Trump events, to be a Deutsche-bag with a massive conflict of interest that is unprecedented for a US presidential candidate. And in the larger world, North Korea has just added itself to the list of Trump supporters.
Heaven help us all.
Related on this Whirled:
- The devil at the crossroads of politix and Scamworld
- Donald Trump and Kevin Trudeau: Turds of a Feather?