Bill Clinton Throws an $18 Million Curveball Into the Trump University Mess
Policy + Politics

Bill Clinton Throws an $18 Million Curveball Into the Trump University Mess

© Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off for the first presidential debate on September 26, the Democratic nominee will have one less arrow in her quiver thanks to her husband’s apparently insatiable appetite for capitalizing on his two terms in the Oval Office.

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The ongoing cases against the now-defunct Trump University – a lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General and class actions by former students who claim they were ripped off – would have provided an opportunity for Clinton to question just how committed Trump is to bettering the lives of the middle class if his eponymous school is alleged to have bilked thousands of dollars from Americans trying to better their circumstances.

Hillary mentioned Trump University yesterday in the context of an illegal $25,000 donation the Trump Foundation made in 2013 to help re-elect Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was considering a fraud investigation of Trump U. The proposed probe was ultimately abandoned. But if Hillary brings up Trump University in a debate as an example of how her opponent’s for-profit school allegedly scammed the vulnerable, she could be opening a trap door, since she and Bill Clinton have their own for-profit university problem.

A Washington Post story Tuesday says that former President Clinton was paid almost $18 million over five years for consulting work and for serving as “honorary chancellor” of Laureate International Universities, a for-profit higher-education company. That deal came nine months after then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arranged for a Laureate official to be invited to a State Department dinner on higher education in 2009.

The Post also said Laureate has given between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

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Even though there is no evidence of anything illegal in the relationship between Bill Clinton, Laureate, the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under Hillary Clinton, were the Democratic nominee to bring up Trump University in a debate, she would open the door for her opponent to get into Bill’s work for the for-profit university and the so-called Clinton “corruption” that he has already railed against.

The Post tallied up Bill Clinton’s compensation from speeches and consulting during Hillary’s four years as Secretary of State and came up with $65.4 million.

Like Trump University, Laureate was in the dream business. Trump U was selling the dream of making a killing in real estate after paying to learn Donald Trump’s techniques. A promotional brochure for Laureate, signed by Bill Clinton, said: “Laureate institutions help students, young and old, achieve their dreams, and in doing so, help to improve their home countries and create a world of more widely shared opportunity and responsibility.”

There are, of course, huge differences between Laureate and the operation that was Trump University. Laureate operates accredited, degree-granting schools, the Post says, with more than 1 million students on 87 campuses in 28 countries.

In a 2013 op-ed in The Daily News, New York AG Eric Schneiderman called Trump University
“an unlicensed enterprise promising students that they would become wealthy by learning Trump’s real estate tips and strategies.”

Schneiderman is a Democrat, but he laid out the case against Trump before the mogul was ever a serious candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. 

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The AG said: “Trump University had neither a license nor a charter from New York State certifying it as an institution of higher education. In total, Trump University students were defrauded of $40 million, with about $5 million landing in Trump’s pocket. My office received complaints from many former students. One lost her life savings; another had to move out of her home after investing in Trump’s mentorship programs. Trump claims that enrollees have given his program a 98% approval rating, but we have statements showing that students were hounded into giving favorable reviews. Some 5,000 hardworking people from all over the country fell for Donald Trump’s sales pitch and ended up getting taken. They were victims of a high-pressure bait and switch.”

Shilling for Laureate isn’t the same thing as preying on people hungry to get ahead, but the Clintons’ mixing of public office and the pursuit of personal wealth makes Trump U a complicated topic for Hillary to bring up and provides Trump with plenty of ammunition to return fire in the event of an attack.