Donald Trump’s legal troubles, stemming from his involvement in the now defunct Trump University, erupted into a major issue in the presidential campaign today, with rival Marco Rubio citing it as evidence the Republican frontrunner is a “con artist.” The developer is being sued in federal court by former students who claim they were defrauded of thousands of dollars in fees.
“I mean, this is unreal,” said Rubio on NBC’s “Today” show. “This guy is a con artist. … You have a guy who is being sued right now for fraud for Trump University. … There are people that borrow $36,000 to go to Trump University … And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.”
“A con artist is about to take over the conservative movement and the Republican Party, and we have to put a stop to it,” he added in a separate interview on ABC News.
Rubio’s comments, which echoed remarks by him and Sen. Ted Cruz at the Republican debate Thursday night, followed the disclosure by Yahoo News that Trump is slated to be a witness in an upcoming civil trial in San Diego. A class-action suit accuses the developer of defrauding thousands of students in his unaccredited, for-profit “Trump University,” which promised to teach them how to get rich in the real estate business. The sharp new attack lines reflect a strategic decision made by the Rubio camp this week that the Florida senator needed to launch a frontal attack on Trump and that the ongoing fraud cases against him — there are actually three he is currently facing over the university — present the most opportunities.
We believe it’s going to be a fruitful line of attack,” one Rubio advisor told Yahoo News Friday. To have a leading presidential candidate being accused of fraud in court in the midst of a campaign “is unique in American politics.”
Trump, who has strongly denied all wrongdoing and recently hired prominent litigator Daniel Petrocelli to represent him in the San Diego case, dismissed the issue when it came up in the debate and again in a press conference Friday at which he was endorsed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie defended Trump, who claimed he had won “most” of the lawsuits he has faced over the issue. In fact he has failed in repeated attempts to get the suits dismissed. The San Diego case will be the first to go to trial.
And Cruz appears to have made a similar calculation as Rubio, bringing up the potential effect of the cases on Trump’s electability.