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Who won the Trump University lawsuit? Look at the statements.

Photo: Christie M Farriella, New York Daily News

The Trump Organization settled fraud suits against Trump University for $25 million, removing the trial from the President-elect’s schedule. But because a settlement is a negotiated solution, you can’t immediately tell who came out on top — maybe $25 million is a lot less than the plaintiffs could have gotten. That is, until you read the statements each side made.

New York Attorney General cites “swindling”

Here’s the statement from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In 2013, my office sued Donald Trump for swindling thousands of innocent Americans out of millions of dollars through a scheme known as Trump University. Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeals and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university. Today, that all changes. Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.

I am pleased that under the terms of this settlement, every victim will receive restitution and that Donald Trump will pay up to $1 million in penalties to the State of New York for violating state education laws. The victims of Trump University have waited years for today’s result and I am pleased that their patience–and persistence–will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement.

Note a few things about this statement:

  • It’s short, just 150 words.
  • It’s written in the first person. Schneiderman talks about what “my office” did and how “I am pleased.”
  • It’s full of punchy verbs and adjectives like “swindling,” “baseless,” “phony,” and “fraudulent.” Some of this is hyperbole, of course, but the fact that the Trump Organization could not block him from using this language indicates a complete capitulation.
  • It’s completely written in the active voice. The subject of every sentence is the actor. You get a sense of Trump and Schneiderman’s office doing battle.
  • It’s cites actual numbers, like 6,000 victims and $1 million in penalties.
  • There are plenty of weasel words, such as “thousands,” “millions,” “modest,” and “major.” These vague intensifiers don’t help. The statement would be stronger and sound more believable if Schneiderman either replaced them with precise amounts (like the 6,000 victims) or deleted them. No matter how enthusiastic you are, don’t get carried away — remember that weasel words awaken the reader’s skepticism.

The Trump Organization’s response is generic

Here’s the totality of the Trump Organization’s response:

We are pleased to announce the complete resolution of all litigation involving Trump University. While we have no doubt that Trump University would have prevailed at trial based on the merits of this case, resolution of these matters allows President-elect Trump to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation.

While this is even shorter — 54 words in two sentences — and is also written in the first person, it says hardly anything. It doesn’t say that the university was not a fraud. It doesn’t say that the students got value out of it. It simply says “we would have won, and we have settled.” In fact, the only descriptive elements refer to the “important” issues and our “great” nation.

From the outside, there’s no way to know if $25 million is less than the plaintiffs had hoped for. But the statements tell the story clearly. Schneiderman calls Trump University phony and a fraud. Trump’s faceless spokesperson says “we need to move on.”

Trump lost.

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  1. Trump lost. But instead of a court case that would’ve spanned several news cycles, he got one Saturday headline—which I probably would’ve missed had you not posted it outside your normal Monday – Friday schedule. (Thank you.)

    So he lost. But in terms of what really matters to him, he won. Life isn’t fair.

  2. No one has a monopoly on learning. Trump U like many other places of higher learning is only worth it if you take what you’ve learned and use it to improve your life; information is indeed power. The state of NY, like every other state, covets the Accreditation process so they can charge for blessing the curriculum. We all go whee we are accepted to get that converted accreditation. If the ones sueing Trump didn’t check first, shame on them. What we need in this country is Tort reform and more people using their common sense.

  3. I have heard that the plaintiffs’ lawyers waived their fees. Given what often happens with class action lawsuits, I’m curious. And impressed.

  4. I suspect there’s a precedent here. Trump is wealthy enough to buy-off the pending claims of sexual harassment, so that they don’t get in the way of ‘important issues’.