Pam Bondi wasn’t the only state attorney general to drop a Trump University probe: Greg Abbot—now the governor of Texas—closed his office’s civil investigation of “possibly deceptive trade practices” in 2010 after Trump University pulled out of Texas. Campaign finance records show that Trump subsequently donated $35,000 to Abbott’s successful gubernatorial bid.
Trump University didn’t stay in Texas for very long, opening up shop in 2009 and closing in 2010 after Abbott’s office sent at least one letter to Trump’s attorneys, charging it with making promises to students “virtually impossible to achieve.”
A former deputy chief in the attorney general’s consumer protection division, John Owens, has come forward with details of how the AG squashed the Trump University investigation. A confidential memo shows that the consumer protection division wanted to ask Trump University for a $5.4 million settlement, and to bring a lawsuit if the organization refused.
After Trump University agreed to pull out of Texas, however, Abbott’s office dropped the investigation. “It was swept under the rug,” Owens told the Texas Tribune, “and the consumers were left with no one to go to bat for them.”
In a statement, Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch dismissed the renewed scrutiny on Trump’s donations to the governor—the only contributions Trump has made to a Texas politician: one for $25,000 in July 2013, and the other for $10,000 in May 2014—as misguided. (“Story is bogus,” Abbott tweeted.)
“The Texas Attorney General’s office investigated Trump U, and its demands were met—Trump U was forced out of Texas and consumers were protected,” Hirsch said. “The unthinkable has happened—the media’s obsession with Donald Trump is now leading them to highlight the job then-Attorney General Abbott did in protecting Texas consumers.”
But, as Owens points out, Abbott brokering Trump University’s withdrawal from Texas only protected future consumers—it did nothing for the approximately 267 students who’d already been bilked by the allegedly fraudulent university. From Talking Points Memo:
Owens said a meeting had even been scheduled with Trump’s lawyers for May 19, but, as he remembers it, they had asked for a little more time to prepare.
But, as his team was looking into rescheduling, they were told there would be no meeting after all.
“And then we got the word, don’t reschedule anything, the case is over. Drop it. Close it. We’re not going to sue Trump University,” Owens said. “The Houston lawyers told me that they’re not going to go after Trump because it’s Donald Trump, so I took from that that he’s being treated differently because he is Donald Trump and that’s a political decision and it was made at the highest levels of the AG’s office.”
In a letter to Texas newspapers, David Morales, the deputy attorney general for civil litigation at the time, has taken responsibility for the decision not to pursue the investigation: “During that investigation and following subsequent demands for documents, Trump University agreed to temporarily suspended its Texas operations. By May 2010, Trump University had agreed to permanently suspend of all operations in Texas.”
“That agreement to permanently and immediately leave Texas was, in my opinion, the most important element of resolving this investigation,” Morales wrote. “It ensured that no further Texas citizens would be exposed to the company and it did not preclude those consumers who felt they wanted a refund to demand it from Trump University or in court.”
Owens isn’t buying it. “They could have reversed him and the bottom line is, they can spin it all they want, they collectively made this decision,” he told TPM. “They treated him differently because he is Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, Ken Paxton, the current Texas attorney general, has sent Owens a cease-and-desist letter to get him to stop talking about the seven-month-long investigation, alleging that he was sharing “privileged and private information from state records.”
“I think the information I provided to the press was important and needed to be shared with the public,” Owens, who served in the attorney general’s office for 20 years before retiring in 2011, told the Houston Chronicle. “I stand by everything I have said, and everything I have said is true and correct.”