Donald Trump Fights Racketeering Lawsuit by Pointing to Bill Clinton's "University"

The Republican candidate warns about expanding the reach of a statute that is best known for going after mobsters.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Donald Trump has now drawn a spotlight on the Clintons in his ongoing defense of Trump University, the ill-fated institution that allegedly had students maxing out credit cards and emptying out 401(k)s to hear Trump's supposedly hand-picked professors teaching the secrets to getting rich in the real estate industry.

In new court documents filed Friday, Trump says that any references in Trump University's marketing materials to "secrets," "hand-picked" and "university" "are classic examples of sales puffery common to advertising everywhere."

The Republican presidential candidate is facing several legal actions over Trump University including a class action led by Art Cohen in California that claims a violation of federal racketeering law. In this case, Trump is now pushing for summary judgment in his favor. His attorney Daniel Petrocelli tells the judge that "If this case is allowed to proceed, it would represent an unprecedented and unprincipled expansion of civil RICO and transform virtually every alleged violation of consumer protection laws into a civil RICO claim and subject owners, officers, directors and others to personal liability for treble damages."

Petrocelli is a star litigator in Hollywood who once beat O.J. Simpson in a civil case and has represented pretty much every major studio. The O'Melveny & Myers partner is also a Democrat who is looking to save Trump from a trial right around the Republican National Convention. He recently previewed the defense to The Hollywood Reporter, saying that no one who signed up for Trump University thought "they were going to USC or UCLA. They were taking real estate courses over a weekend at a hotel. Those who pushed themselves found success, and those who lacked effort didn't ..."

Now, in summary judgment papers (read here in full), Trump's attorney is making the case there's no racketeering activity and certainly no predicate act of "fraud" in how Trump University was marketed. As part of the presentation, he basically tears apart the meaning of the word "university," pointing to another university's press release that says there is no standardized definition of the term. "As a result, educational companies and business organizations of all types frequently use the word 'university' to market their products or services despite having no affiliation with a degree-granting university," states the brief.

Among the examples given is how the Clinton Foundation (founded in 2001 by Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton) launched "CGI University." According to the Clinton Foundation's website, "Each year, CGI U hosts a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges."

Trump's court papers showcase the logo:

Alongside talk of this Clinton University is Disney University, Hamburger University (run by McDonalds) and Motorola University. "Even Farmers Insurance runs a well-known series of commercials starring actor J.K. Simmons as 'Professor Nathaniel Burke' at University of Farmers, where they aim to 'make you smarter' about insurance coverage," adds the summary judgment motion.

The court papers say that Trump was indeed "personally involved" in hiring decisions, but that changed once Trump University's business operations expanded. But the defendant in this racketeering case says there was never any representation that Trump University was a "university" equivalent to a four-year, degree-granting institution.

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