Trump defends his university, calls N.Y. attorney general a 'political hack'
ALBANY, N.Y. • Donald Trump on Monday defended his Trump University as a booming success for student entrepreneurs and blasted New York's attorney general, who called it a scam.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shot back that Trump is making wild accusations, just like others who commit fraud and get caught.
"We have a terrific school. It's done a fantastic job," Trump told ABC's "Good Morning America." "We have a 98 percent approval rating among students."
Trump held several TV interviews to further contest the lawsuit filed Saturday by Schneiderman, which alleges the real estate mogul helped run a phony university that promised to make students rich but instead steered them into expensive and mostly useless seminars.
"This is a political hack looking to get publicity," Trump said.
His attorney, Michael Cohen, said Saturday that Schneiderman was upset the reality TV star didn't give him more campaign contributions, which he claims Schneiderman sought even while investigating Trump University. Cohen called it extortion.
Trump, in interviews with "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today," denied Schneiderman's claims that he never met with students and didn't pick instructors.
"I was totally involved to a very high degree," he said. "I told people what to do, and if they had listened to me, it would have made a lot of money."
Schneiderman wouldn't specifically say if he solicited any donations from Trump during the two-year investigation. The attorney general's office released this statement from Schneiderman in response to Trump's accusations: "Prosecutors are all used to persons who commit fraud making wild accusations when they're caught."
"This is just an effort to distract from the substance of the case," the Democrat said. "The substance of the case, he has not rebutted in any way shape or form."
Schneiderman is suing Trump and Trump University for $40 million, accusing them of engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law. He says the developer of hotels, casinos and more also failed to deliver promised apprenticeships.
On Saturday, after he filed the lawsuit, Schneiderman told The Associated Press: "No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hard working New Yorkers."
State Education Department officials had told Trump to change the name of his enterprise years ago, saying it lacked a license and didn't meet the legal definitions of a university. In 2011, it was renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Institute.
Schneiderman claims many of the 5,000 students who paid up to $35,000 thought they would at least meet Trump, but instead, all they got was their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of "The Apprentice" star.
That's at odds with Trump's contention that 98 percent of students surveys rated the program as "excellent."
One former student who once praised the program as "amazing" and "excellent" is now suing Trump and Trump University in California. Tarla Makaeff of San Diego is representing herself and some other former students who claim the program didn't fulfill its promise of insider expertise.
The judge noted in a ruling on a motion in the ongoing lawsuit that in other cases, "victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced."
Trump said he will continue to fight Schneiderman, who he said badmouthed fellow Democrats including President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"He thought I would settle the lawsuit," Trump said. "I didn't want to settle the lawsuit on principal."
Trump, who has flirted with running for president, created a website, http://www.98percentapproval.com, in which he posts surveys dated from several years ago to back up his claim of widespread support.
A typical review complained only of the price.
"I had very little expectations (sic) as I am very new to this environment," one student wrote by hand in the survey. "The information + stories did however completely motivate me to take the next step! The presenters & the wealth of knowledge they brought along with the passion & enthusiasm they had motivates me!"
Schneiderman's lawsuit says several students in the three-day seminar costing $1,495 were upset that they were pressured to take more expensive Trump "Elite" programs. He said the students concluded the initial seminar was just a "sales pitch."
Neither Trump nor Schneiderman immediately provided the names of students to directly back up their claims.