In a new video for a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, a former official with the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office outlined his team's multimillion dollar fraud case against Trump University, which he alleges was "punted" for political reasons when it reached the highest levels of the Texas Attorney General's Office under now-Gov. Greg Abbott.
In the video, John Owens doubles down on comments he made to reporters this summer, saying that a seven month investigation by his office in 2009 determined that Trump U was "violating the law in so many ways." Owens says his division recommended that the state file a lawsuit against Trump U for engaging in "false, misleading and deceptive practices and acts" and even recommended that the state hold Donald Trump personally liable for duping Texas consumers, saying Trump approved the marketing and course materials and even filmed video ads asking people to join the get-rich-quick scheme.
"The entire consumer protection division of the Texas Attorney General's Office recommended to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that this suit be filed," Owens says in the new video. "And they punted, they took a pass. There’s no question that the top echelon, the top people, Greg Abbott on down, basically declined to take action against Trump University or Donald Trump.” Owens says that at the time, his office never had any problem getting the AG's office to take action against similarly situated real estate scams. "When we sent up the Donald Trump case, we didn't get approval," he says in the video. "It was politics."
Owens' allegations first raised eyebrows in June when he released internal records related to his office's investigation into the now-defunct real estate program. According to Owens, rather than filing a lawsuit or pressuring Trump U to pay back the millions of dollars Texans spent on what his investigation called “dubious real estate investment strategies,” the AG’s office under Abbott dropped the case and let Trump U quietly leave the state. Years later, Donald Trump would donate some $35,000 to Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign, the only major donation he'd made to a Texas politician in years.
It’s still not clear why exactly the case against Trump U was killed or who ultimately made the final call to nix any lawsuit against or settlement with the company. The governor's office has denied that Trump’s donation to his campaign had anything to do with the decision, and this week an Abbott spokesman told the Houston Chronicle (which got an early copy of the video) that Owens' comments are "the ranting of an overtly partisan Hillary supporter, who has changed his story." This summer, after Owens released records from the case, a former AG official fell on the sword and told reporters that he’d personally made the decision to drop the case and hadn’t even discussed it with Abbott before making the call.
The case got even curious-er when current state Attorney General Ken Paxton, not one to miss out on a scandal, threatened legal action against Owens for discussing the case, sending him a cease and desist letter claiming he'd broken "several state laws" by going public with his story.
It's obvious why Democrats have latched on to the rocky history of Trump U as a campaign issue. The Texas case has been compared to another in Florida, where that state's attorney general, Pam Bondi, backed out of a similar legal case against Trump U after not long before the Donald J. Trump foundation donated $25,000 to a political fundraising committee that supported her re-election bid (Democrats have called for a federal probe into the matter).
Abbott's office, meanwhile, continues to write off Owens' allegations as pure partisan politics. In a statement to the Chron this week, an Abbott spokesman declared, "Hillary Clinton has lied about her emails, she has lied about Benghazi, she has lied about her health and now she is lying about Greg Abbott."
Still, Owens' allegations underscore one lingering question nobody at the governor's or AG's office has really answered: Why did Texas let Trump U off the hook without consequence, even after a state investigation determined it had scammed Texas taxpayers out of millions of dollars with a real estate scheme other state attorneys general have called “straight-up fraud"?