The Newest Revelation in the Trump University Scandal

June 5th 2016

Aron Macarow

The former consumer protections officer in charge of the state of Texas' fraud investigation into Trump University was ordered to drop the case in 2010, according to news reports. But the officer has now released a summary of the state's case files to the public.

John Owens, the former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protections for the Lone Star state, told The Associated Press on Friday that his team was required to halt its probe by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, after Trump University agreed to cease its Texas operations. But the former consumer protections officer said that he found the decision so irregular – he called it "highly unusual" – that he chose to release a 14-page internal summary of the state's case against Trump U.

Current Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is also a Republican, has since issued a cease-and-desist letter to Owens. Owens maintained that he has done nothing wrong.

"I have done nothing illegal or unethical. I think the information I provided to the press was important and needed to be shared with the public," Owens said in response to Paxton's letter in an interview with The Associated Press.

Donald Trump has previously said that Texas dropped the investigation into Trump University because there were no grounds for it. He told CNN's Jake Tapper that the case "was turned down by almost every attorney general," including that of the state of Texas.

Owens' revelations offer a different narrative: The Texas Attorney General did have a strong case against Trump University, but decided not to pursue it. After Abbott told state regulators to drop the investigation into Trump U., Donald Trump donated $35,000 to Abbott's gubernatorial campaign. Abbott is now the state's governor.

Owens stops short of saying that there was a quid pro quo arrangement or that Abbott ordered the investigation dropped in exchange for the campaign contribution, and there is no evidence or allegation of such an arrangement. But Owens said that he feels nevertheless that the decision was related to politics.

"It had to be political in my mind, because Donald Trump was treated differently than any other similarly situated scam artist in the 16 years I was at the consumer protection office," Owens said. (Trump has repeatedly denied that he has committed any wrongdoing.)

Matt Hirsch, a spokesman for Abbott, said Friday that Owens' accusations were "absurd": The "Texas Attorney General's office investigated Trump U., and its demands were met." That led to the investigation's conclusion.

Others argue that this isn't the first time the cards have fallen in Trump's favor in similar investigations.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi reportedly considered joining with New York in a multistate lawsuit against Trump University in 2013. But three days after Bondi's office told local media that it was evaluating the case, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made a $25,000 contribution to support Bondi's re-election.

Bondi subsequently dropped her office's investigation, saying that it didn't turn up enough grounds to proceed. A spokesperson for her office, Whitney Ray, said recently that the decision to drop the case was "rightfully made" and that it did not involve Bondi directly.

For his part, Trump has bragged about his campaign contributions and said that they have led politicians to advance his business interests.

"As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do. As a businessman, I need that," Trump explained to The Wall Street Journal last year.