A Fake University, a Secret Conversation, and My Court Battle Against a Fraudulent President
Of the many thousands of lawsuits involving Donald Trump and his companies, it is rare to see Trump exposed by a settlement and the terms in the public domain. My role as lead plaintiff in the RICO case Cohen v. Trump (3:2013cv02519) was a David vs. Goliath moment, a chance to help those who were harmed by fraud and deceit.
Steam may as well have been pouring from Donald Trump’s ears.
The date was Dec. 10, 2015, and Trump faced a cannonade of questions about his fraudulent school, Trump University, for a deposition hearing in the RICO class-action case Cohen v. Trump. During a break in the proceedings, the eventual President of the United States exploded in a 15-minute meltdown, failing to consider the microphone and camera capturing his every word. Art Cohen, the lead plaintiff in the case, was the only litigant watching live video of Trump’s hot mic moment, the existence of which has never been publicly revealed. What Cohen witnessed on the video feed made his stomach turn in knots.
Trump was his usual boisterous self during the hot mic conversation, bragging about a range of topics including his efforts to bully the Better Business Bureau about a low grade he'd received. But Trump's mentions of Judge Gonzalo Curiel — from his heritage to his handling of the case — worried Cohen the most. As Cohen listened to the conversation, he grew concerned about the judge's safety. Cohen’s fears were realized months later when Trump began publicly criticizing the judge, an Indiana native of Mexican heritage, suggesting in interviews and at rallies that Curiel’s treatment of him was in retaliation to Trump’s border stance –– his new tactic for undermining the case after Curiel didn’t alter the class certification.
“He has been extremely hostile to me. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe.”
“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel. And he is not doing the right thing.”
“He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
Cohen didn’t get the chance to warn Curiel ahead of Trump’s attacks. While Cohen alerted his counsel and asked them if there was anything that could make Judge Curiel vulnerable on a personal level, he otherwise stayed silent about the hot mic moment out of concern that it could jeopardize potential settlements for himself and 6,000+ other Trump University victims.
The details of the secret Trump conversation and other insights have weighed on Cohen for years. Now that the $25 million settlement has been distributed to Trump's victims and the case is resolved, and with the 2020 election looming, Cohen isn't staying silent anymore. In his book TrumpBuster: A Fake University, a Secret Conversation, and My Court Battle Against a Fraudulent President, Cohen is sharing his story –– providing his insights and perspectives as the lead plaintiff in the fight for justice against the future president. Part legal thriller, part David-versus-Goliath tale, TrumpBuster details Cohen's connections to Trump, first as one of the thousands of student-victims who enrolled in Trump's fraudulent "university," and later as the lead plaintiff in the effort to hold Trump accountable.
About the book
TrumpBuster explores the curious, crucial decision by Judge Curiel –– who was on the receiving end of Trump's hateful attacks –– to delay a trial, allowing Trump to devote his energy to his presidential ambitions during the summer of 2016 instead of spending weeks in a courtroom. It also highlights the role that now-disgraced New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman played in the proceedings, and how he jeopardized the settlement; Trump's actual reasons for settling beyond his desire to "focus on our country"; what concerned Cohen's attorneys about the difference in Trump's behavior during his two depositions; and Cohen's own role in shaping the language of the settlement agreement.
About Trump University
"At Trump University, we teach success. That's what it's all about –– success. It's going to happen to you," Donald Trump said, looking to the camera lens. The video played at many introductory Trump University events, promising a chance to learn Donald Trump's real estate secrets. He assured he'd hand-picked faculty members himself and that Trump University would offer a better education with few expenses in less time. But none of those promises turned out to be true, and victims quickly found themselves out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Why it matters
The Trump University legal saga is a footnote to history. But the case had the potential to change the course of the 2016 election, and there are deep parallels between Cohen v. Trump and Trump's actions as president. If the trial had begun as scheduled between late May and August 2016, as Art Cohen's legal team hoped, Trump would have been sidelined from the campaign trail during a crucial stretch. That time frame saw him hold rallies in dozens of states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan –– the states that swung the election by razor-thin margins. That trial may have also required him to release personal financial documents (which he still has not done) or admit his actual wealth under oath.
About the Author
Art Cohen, a San Jose, California-area businessman, grew up in Philadelphia during the 1980s as Donald Trump was building his national profile. Whenever Cohen visited Atlantic City, N.J., he saw Trump’s casinos and considered the name “Trump” synonymous with success and wealth. In 2009, Cohen enrolled in Trump University with the hopes of becoming a real estate developer, but after spending tens of thousands of dollars and getting nothing of value in return, he grew disenchanted. He joined a lawsuit against Trump University in 2011 and became engaged as a lead plaintiff in 2013, a role he continued through the $25 million settlement in November 2016 and subsequent payouts for Trump University's thousands of victims. Cohen's experiences as lead plaintiff against Trump inspired him to take a more active role in politics –– in 2016 he served as a California delegate for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and later became president of the Silicon Valley Democratic Club, the San Jose Bay Area's largest Democratic organization. Art Currently volunteers his time as a commissioner for the Santa Clara County Sister City Commission and as a council member for this local high school site council.
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