Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Key tactics in Donald Trump's "Playbook" included pressuring potential students to take on debt and preying upon personal vulnerabilities. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)

Key tactics in Donald Trump's "Playbook" included pressuring potential students to take on debt and preying upon personal vulnerabilities. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)

Trump University Documents Expose Presumptive Con-Man-in-Chief

GOP nominee built his fortune partly on a real estate education scheme that "preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money."

Lauren McCauley

A swindle and a sham that "preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money" is how people who worked for Trump University described the methods behind the self-titled, now-defunct real estate education program run by the presumptive Republican nominee.

Donald Trump's shifty business practices were laid bare on Tuesday after U.S. district court judge Gonzalo Curiel unsealed more than 400 pages of Trump University "playbooks" (pdf) as well as testimony from former employees as part of a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of fraud.

Trump University billed itself as an educational program dedicated to helping students "achieve financial independence" through real estate investment, holding multi-day retreats that cost as much as $35,000 to attend.

"I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme," said Ronald Schnackenberg, who worked as a sales manager from October 2006 to May 2007, "and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money."

In his testimony, Schnackenberg recounts being "reprimanded" after he refused to push the $35,000 Elite seminar package on a financially struggling couple who "would have had to pay for the program using his disability income and taking out a loan based upon equity in his apartment." Schnackenberg said he was "disgusted" after another sales person talked them into buying the costly seminar and subsequently resigned.

In the Sales Playbook, employees are instructed to prey upon individuals' needs and concerns. For instance, one page instructs recruiters to "Collect personalized information that you can utilize during closing time. (For example: Are they a single parent of a three children that may need money for food? Or are they a middle-aged commuter that is tired of traveling for 2 hours to work each day?)"

Another section offers rebuttals for common objections. If someone says, "I don't like using my credit cards and going into debt," the playbook instructs the salesperson to say, "[D]o you like living paycheck to paycheck? ... Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dreams cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn't make excuses, like what you're doing now."

The release of the documents made serious waves as it came less than one week after Trump won enough delegates to secure his position as GOP nominee.

That milestone motivated the unsealing as Curiel determined that the contents were in the public interest. He said that Trump, as "the front-runner in the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race...has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue." Citing a previous case, the judge said he must weigh "whether a party benefiting from the order of confidentiality is a public entity or official; and...whether the case involves issues important to the public."

Indeed, many have seized on the revelations as further evidence that the New York billionaire is unfit to lead the country and, alternately, should be jailed for fraud

"If you look at the facts of this case, this shows someone who was absolutely shameless in his willingness to lie to people, to say whatever it took to induce them into his phony seminars," said New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, whose office is embroiled in another suit against Trump University.

As New York Magazine's Eric Levitz pointed out, "Trump University isn't the only example of the Donald attempting to profit from Americans' economic anxiety: In 2009, the GOP nominee advertised a multi-level marketing scheme called the Trump Network as a 'recession-proof' way for struggling investors to get back into the black."

He cites Trump, who last week told voters in North Dakota, "Politicians have used you and stolen your votes. They have given you nothing, I will give you everything. I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years. I'm the only one."

Levitz concludes, "The Republican nominee is literally, objectively, a con man."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Urge DOJ Antitrust Probe Into $43 Billion Discovery-WarnerMedia Merger

"Giant corporations must not be allowed to stomp out competition, put up barriers to enter the market, and continue to exclude Latinos from the media industry."

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Won't Stop Fighting,' Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea

"We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Continues Drilling Boom on Public Lands Despite Campaign Pledge, Analysis Shows

"The reality is that in the battle between the oil industry and Biden, the industry is winning."

Julia Conley ·


Big Oil Profits Surge to $174 Billion in 2021 Amid Rising Gas Prices: Report

"Americans looking for someone to blame for the pain they experience at the pump need look no further than the wealthy oil and gas company executives who choose to line their own pockets."

Kenny Stancil ·


Rights Groups Decry 'Farcical and Corrupt' Verdict as Myanmar's Suu Kyi Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

"There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo