Unsealed Trump University ‘playbooks’ show how controversial school was run

Donald Trump at a news conference in New York in 2005 announcing the establishment of Trump University. A class-action suit filed by former students is set to go to trial this month.
(Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

Nearly 400 pages of previously sealed court documents in a lawsuit filed against Donald Trump and the now-defunct Trump University were made public Tuesday, detailing operations of the real-estate-to-riches program that cost students as much as $35,000.

The documents are part of one of two lawsuits filed in San Diego federal court against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the real estate seminars offered through Trump University.

The “playbooks” describe how the seminars were to be run, often in minute detail, with selling techniques and tips for employees tasked with signing up customers. The materials urge them to aggressively get participants to buy more expensive programs.


The documents were ordered unsealed Friday by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the lawsuits in San Diego. His ruling came after a hearing that took place shortly after Trump made a campaign appearance at the Convention Center, just a few blocks from the courthouse, where he lambasted Curiel as biased against him and referred to him as a “Mexican.”

Curiel was born in Indiana of parents who emigrated from Mexico. He is a former federal narcotics prosecutor in San Diego who was appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2012. His ruling came in response to a motion filed by The Washington Post news organization seeking to unseal those records and nearly 1,000 pages of other documents.

Both sides agreed to unseal the bulk of the records. But Trump’s lawyers sought to keep the playbook records — which were filed two years ago as part of a motion to certify the lawsuit as a class action — under wraps, contending they contained trade secrets.

Curiel rejected that argument, noting that one of the playbooks from 2010 had been published by the online news site Politico weeks ago, and Trump’s lawyers had presented no compelling reason why they should remain secret.

Although he didn’t refer to Trump’s attacks at the rally, he noted that the lawsuits have become a campaign issue and Trump — who has criticized how Curiel handled the case previously — “has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue.”

The lawsuits accuse Trump of misleading students of his real estate program, which cost $35,000 for an “elite” membership. They contend Trump University falsely held itself out to be an accredited university, that students would be taught by real estate experts and mentors handpicked by Trump and that students would get a year of mentoring.


Instead, the lawsuits claim the instructors were not experts, that the program focused on “up-selling” techniques to rake in more money and that the yearlong mentorship program fell flat.

Trump’s lawyers argue that many students gave the program positive ratings and those who failed to find real estate success did so by their own fault.

The documents show in detail how the program was to be run, giving detailed sales scripts and tips on how to overcome reluctant customers. They also contain specific instructions in a number of areas.

The room temperature was never to be more than 68 degrees. Chairs had to be arranged in a specific way — theater-style or classroom — with enough space between them for attendees, but close enough to bring people “out of their comfort zone.”

Employees were known as “Trump U Team Members,” according to the documents. They couldn’t have visible tattoos or piercings, had to wear a suit the entire first day of the three-day seminars, and at least the first 30 minutes of the next days.

They also were told they had to use a specific computer desktop background on laptops, which depicted the Trump corporate logo.

There were also strict guidelines on dealing with media. Team members were prohibited from speaking with the media and instructed to contact other officials with the organization.

“Reporters are rarely on your side and not sympathetic,” reads one of more than a dozen bullet-point reminders in the packet. “No matter how much confidence you have in Trump University, you should not say anything,” reads another.

In addition to the media tips, the playbooks also contain instructions under the heading of “Attorney General.” It gives the name of a Trump University employee to contact “if an Attorney General arrives on the scene.” It also notes, “By law, you do not have to show them any personal information unless they present a warrant; however you are expected to be courteous.”

At the hearing Friday, Trump University lawyer Jill Martin told Curiel that although it is defunct — it has not accepted students since 2010 — the business could reopen in the future. That was another reason she argued the playbooks should remain sealed, but Curiel ultimately disagreed.

More documents that have been under seal, including declarations from what Trump University lawyers say are satisfied customers, are due to be unsealed later this week.

Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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