Legal Troubles Overhang Presidential Election

This presidential election cycle is groundbreaking in so many different respects.  The one respect that intersects my world is the degree to which each presumptive nominee’s campaign is dogged by ongoing legal battles.

Hillary Clinton has been beset for months by criticism over her exclusive use of a personal email server to conduct State Department business, when according to State Department policy she should have used a government email address and government server.  The problem was not merely technical, because when she left the State Department she did not turn over her emails to the government.  Thus, when the emails were sought by subpoena in connection with the Benghazi affair, the process of reviewing and turning over responsive emails was in the hands of Clinton staff rather than the government.  This lead to criticism that the Clinton people were bleeding out the emails slowly and selectively.

The State Department’s recent report of its Inspector General was scathingly critical of Secretary Clinton.  That report confirmed that Secretary Clinton never asked for permission to conduct government business on her private email server and would never have been given the permission if she asked.  The report also confirmed that she should have, but failed to, turn over her work-related emails when leaving government service and that employees who questioned the wisdom of the private email server were hushed.

This report is no doubt bad political news for Clinton, but it is just a report, not a court proceeding.  Still hanging over Clinton’s head is whether there will be an indictment for mishandling classified information through the private email server.  I suspect this will turn out to be like the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair and his lies about that affair in a deposition.  Yes, it was tawdry and revealed President Clinton’s character flaws, but it was not material for a perjury indictment or an impeachment.  In much the same way, Secretary Clinton’s handling of her emails may reflect political flaws and character issues, but I rather doubt that any prosecutor will conclude that s/he could prove Secretary Clinton formed a criminal intent to violate the law regarding classified information.

I had nearly forgotten that Donald Trump is a defendant in a class action lawsuit claiming Trump University was a fraudulent scheme to extract high tuition payments for a poor education.  This is because the judge decided that holding the trial during the election would be too much of a spectacle and continued the trial until after the election.  Donald Trump resurrected the case as headline news, however, when he called the judge on the case a “hater” and a “Mexican.”  Whether or not the judge heard and was reacting to these remarks, shortly thereafter he issued an order unsealing certain documents lodged in the court file, including a 2010 Trump University “playbook.”

The “playbook” contains a fascinating series of talking points and instructions for Trump University personnel speaking to potential students.  The talking points including assurances that student would be learning from Trump’s own real estate experts, as well as suggestions that students use credit cards for tuition.  Prospective students were to be told “you’ll be working with our experts to become profitable in the shortest amount of time.”  The document includes details on music, room temperature and table clothes to be employed during seminars.

I don’t think the playbook proves fraud, but it certainly underscores the degree to which the university relied on blatant salesmanship to encourage enrollment and encouraged students to take on debt to pay expensive tuition rates.

I suspect that Donald Trump’s detractors will use the playbook to further underscore their impression that he is more of a salesman than serious candidate for president, and his admirers will not care about this any more than they have cared upon his other gaffes or negative press.

It would have been fascinating to have had the case go to trial during the election, but the judge was probably right that this would have turned the trial into a circus.  I guess we’ll find out the verdict against President Trump or Citizen Trump after the election.