Judge rejects Trump bid to bar campaign statements from fraud trial
A U.S. judge on Thursday tentatively rejected a bid by Donald Trump to keep a wide range of statements from the presidential campaign out of an upcoming fraud trial over his Trump University venture.
The ruling came in advance of a pretrial hearing later on Thursday where lawyers for the president-elect will square off against students who claim they were they were lured by false promises to pay up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing “secrets” from his “hand-picked” instructors.
Trump owned 92 percent of Trump University and had control over all major decisions, the students’ court papers say. The president-elect denies the allegations and has argued that he relied on others to manage the business.
Trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28.
In the ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego said Trump’s lawyers can renew objections to specific campaign statements and evidence during trial. Trump’s attorneys had argued that jurors should not hear about statements Trump made during the campaign, including about Curiel himself.
Trump attacked the judge as biased against him. He claimed Curiel, who was born in Indiana but is of Mexican descent, could not be impartial because of Trump’s pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Trump’s lawyers argued that Curiel should bar from the trial accusations about Trump’s personal conduct including alleged sexual misconduct, his taxes and corporate bankruptcies, along with speeches and tweets. They argued the information is irrelevant to the jury and prejudicial to the case.
In court papers, lawyers for the students claimed that Trump’s statements would help jurors as they weigh the Republican’s credibility.
“Defendants have not identified specific evidence that they wish to exclude,” Curiel wrote on Thursday. “Accordingly, the court declines to issue a blanket ruling at this time.”
The judge also barred Trump lawyers from telling jurors that the university had a 98 percent approval rate on student evaluations. That rating is irrelevant as to whether Trump University misrepresented itself, Curiel wrote.
California judges often issue tentative rulings, which are then finalized after a hearing with few major changes.
A representative for the plaintiffs declined to comment, and Trump representatives could not immediately be reached.
Curiel is presiding over two cases against Trump and the university. A separate lawsuit by New York’s attorney general is pending.
(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Diego and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay and Cynthia Osterman)