Donald Trump is betting the case of Hillary Clinton's former chief of staff Cheryl Mills will help keep his under-oath testimony in the Trump University lawsuits off television and out of attack ads.
Trump argues he's entitled to the same treatment Mills received when she won a ruling barring 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 in that case.
Trump's lawyers have told the federal judge hearing the Trump University case that Republican presidential contender shares the fears Mills expressed, that "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."
While it's hard to miss the irony of Trump leaning on a legal argument advanced by a former Clinton aide less than a week before the GOP convention in Cleveland, he may have the upper hand. Judges typically wouldn't allow such video in court before a trial, said Los Angeles lawyer Aaron Bloom, who isn't involved in the Trump case.
Whether the public will get to see the billionaire's testimony will be up to U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump has already accused of being a "hater" who's biased against him. Trump has claimed earlier rulings by Curiel, who's of Mexican-American descent, were retribution for the candidate's pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Wednesday's hearing in San Diego springs from news organizations, including the Washington Post and CNN, seeking access to the video. Transcripts of Trump's questioning under oath in December and January have already been unsealed by Curiel.
The media companies contend that because the candidate has cited Trump University as an example of his business success and has made the litigation a campaign issue, the public interest in transparency is extraordinarily strong.
"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.
Trump is battling two lawsuits in California and one in New York over claims he conned enrollees of his Trump University into believing they would gain special access to his real estate business secrets. Instead, despite paying as much as $35,000, they received instruction from minimally trained teachers and were subject to high-pressure sales tactics to keep buying more seminars and workshops, according to the lawsuits.
Clinton and her Democratic allies have already targeted Trump University.
"Trump University: Pad Donald's pockets and put your own finances at risk—all for the low price of $35,000!" Clinton tweeted June 11, accompanied by a mock promotional video for Trump University.
Trump's deposition video, if released, would inevitably fill TV airtime and pepper campaign attack adds. During a 12-day wave of general-election ads in mid-June, Clinton ran almost 10,000 spots in nine battleground states at a cost of about $500,000 a day.
The video could give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Trump that wasn't intended for a wider audience, said Marc Sandalow, associate academic director of the University of California's Washington Center.
He added though, "It's hard to imagine Donald Trump actually acting very differently from his public appearances and letting his guard down while under oath."
According to the transcripts, Trump was unable to identify any of the instructors or mentors who according to Trump University's marketing materials were "hand-picked" by him or say whether they had any real-estate experience. He accused the lawyer for the students of harassment as he was asked name-by-name whether he recalled the individuals.
Asked whether he believed in playing on people's fantasies, Trump responded, "You can use the word 'fantasy' if you want."
"Or I could use the word 'fantasy,' but, sure, you want to play to something that's beautiful and good and successful," according to the transcript.
The plaintiffs have already tried to file the videos to oppose Trump's bid to throw out one of the class actions in San Diego. The court rejected the video evidence because it didn't conform to technical requirements and Trump has since asked that the videos be filed only under seal, if at all.
In their bid to have videos allowed as evidence, the plaintiffs said they include many "spontaneous and and ad hominem remarks" as well as facial expressions and gestures that aren't in the transcript. The videos show 'Trump's complete and utter unfamiliarity with the instructors and instruction that student-victims received," they said.
Trump was also asked about a March 2008 blog post in which he wrote, "I know Hillary, and I think she would make a great president or vice president."
"You would rather have them on your side, politicians," Trump said in the deposition. "When you're in business, you would like to have the politicians on your side. You don't want to say bad about them."
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