WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said a lawsuit he is fighting over fraud claims involving Trump University is an attempted shakedown by a "sleazebag" law firm and a "horrible, horrible" lead plaintiff.
Neither the plaintiff, Tarla Makaeff, nor her lawyers have responded publicly, but in new court papers filed earlier this week they effectively offered a rebuttal. Though Trump has cast himself as a meticulous businessman, the transcripts sometimes showed he was unaware or uncaring about problems at Trump University.
During Thursday night's debate, Trump's rivals attacked him for allegedly preying on people who enrolled in Trump University's real estate investment seminars and for hiring unqualified instructors — a key contention in the lawsuit.
"One of them, by the way, was the manager at a Buffalo Wild Wing," Rubio said. "And that's who they hired to do this, and people borrowed money, and they signed up for this fake university."
"This is a case I could have settled very easily, but I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right," Trump responded. He said students overwhelmingly filled out surveys giving the course high marks.
Yet in the depositions, which took place in December and January, Trump acknowledged that he had never met instructors whom his marketing described as "hand-picked," and that some unqualified candidates had "slipped through the cracks."
One instructor was a convicted felon, and others had no real estate experience.
"He, he defrauded us. Okay?" Trump said after seeing one former instructor's declaration that he knew little about real estate. "Sue him."
Trump said he did no quality control of the material for the real estate investment seminars, leaving that to a man with no real estate investing experience. After learning that New York State regulators had warned Trump University that it could not advertise itself as an educational institution, Trump said he never followed up.
"I remember hearing about the issue, but I thought that it was all worked out. Unfortunately, maybe it wasn't," he said.
Trump University continued advertising itself as a university for five more years.
One deposition briefly veered into politics when a plaintiffs' attorney asked Trump about his feelings on Bill and Hillary Clinton, a topic he covered in 2008 blog posts.
Asked whether Trump stood by statements including "Bill Clinton was a great president," Trump initially equivocated.
"I have no feeling one way or the other, but I think he was hurt very badly by the scandals," Trump said, before concluding that overall Clinton had not been a great president.
Trump was firmer on rejecting another 2008 statement that "I know Hillary, and I think she would make a great president or vice president."
"I didn't think I said that," Trump said, before being shown the blog post in which he did.
"Yeah, at the time I might have," he responded. "I didn't give it a lot of thought, because I was in business."
The deposition transcript then shows that Trump's attorney tried to have Trump's Clinton comments marked confidential in court records. Trump concurred.
"I don't want those answers to," Trump said, before cutting himself off.
In other exhibits filed with the court, one of Trump University's former employees recalled broken promises, hard-sell tactics and grossly unqualified teachers.
"I recall that some consumers had showed up who were homeless and could not afford the seminars, yet I overheard Trump University representatives telling them, 'It's OK, just max out your credit card,'" wrote former Trump University events manager Corinne Sommer.
Later in the same document, she described Trump as "only concerned with Trump University's revenues and profits."