A court hearing is adding a new layer of legal cobwebs for this year's leading presidential candidates, as Donald Trump is hoping to keep his under-oath testimony in recent Trump University lawsuits off of television for fear of it landing in attack ads. His lawyers are using the case of Hillary Clinton's private email server to help block the release.
News organizations, including the Washington Post and CNN, are seeking access to video from Trump's December and January proceedings about Trump University. As the GOP convention kicks off in Cleveland, Trump is arguing that he deserves the same treatment Clinton's former chief of staff Cheryl Mills received; she won a ruling that stopped Judicial Watch, a conservative group that sued for access to Clinton's e-mail records while she was Secretary of State, from publicizing a video of her deposition.
According to Trump's lawyers, Trump, the Republican presidential hopeful, has the same fears that Mills had: that the "release of her deposition video would allow others to manipulate her testimony, and invade her personal privacy, to advance a partisan agenda that should have nothing do with this litigation," according to a Bloomberg Politics' Edvard Pettersson and Bill Callahan.
Media companies are hoping for the video from the questioning because they say Trump cites Trump University as an example of his business success. Because of this, media companies argue that it has made the litigation a campaign issue, and the public interest is particularly strong. The videos will provide "a full picture" of the testimony, according to Dan Laidman, an attorney for the media consortium seeking release of the deposition video.
"The allegations in this case relate to his business record, which he has presented as his primary qualification for the nation's highest office," the news organizations said in a court filing.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will decide the fate of the testimony: public or not. Curiel, who is of Mexican-American descent, has been accused of being a "hater" and biased against Trump. Some think Curiel could use the judgment as retaliation for Trump's pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
In return, Trump has accused Curiel of bias and conflict of interest, as well as laying direct attacks on his ethnic background. According to the Washington Post, he called Curiel a "Mexican." These comments were not well-received by the American public; many found them racist, according to recent polls, and they were condemned across the political arena, including by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Eventually, Trump said in a statement that his attacks on the judge had been "misconstrued" as an attack on all people of Mexican heritage. He said he had questioned the judge's ability to be impartial due to "unfair and mistaken rulings." Trump lawyers have not moved to have the judge removed.
Curiel heard the first public hearing of the case on July 13 in San Diego. Curiel asked Trump's lawyer to specify their concerns. Daniel Petrocelli, Trump's lawyer, told the judge that parts of the video would be used in political ads "for sure." He urged the judge to follow the example of a fellow Washington judge who ruled against public access to videos of testimonial by Clinton's aides.
"We have an almost identical situation that just came up in the Hillary Clinton email case," Petrocelli said. "The conduct was about a public official and the discharge of her duties while in office. This case involves no such allegation of misconduct by a sitting public official. This case involves purely private conduct by a company and people who bought a ticket to these events and signed up for these courses."
Trump is currently battling three lawsuits — two in California and one in New York — over Trump University, which was not an accredited school. Many of the students involved in the lawsuit paid about $1,500 for a three-day seminar, while some paid almost $35,000 for a mentorship program, according to the Chicago Tribune. The students claim they were conned into believing they would get special real estate secrets from the billionaire himself. Instead, the lawsuits allege that Trump University provided instruction from unqualified teachers, and that students were constantly pressured to buy more seminars and workshops.
According to the transcripts, which are already public, Trump could not identify any of the instructors or mentors at Trump University, although marketing materials claimed they were "hand picked" by Trump himself.
The case is Cohen v. Trump, 13-cv-02519, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego). Curiel said a ruling would be issued soon.