A federal judge who has been a target of Donald Trump’s repeated scorn on Tuesday denied a media request to release videos of the Republican presidential candidate testifying in a lawsuit about the now-defunct Trump University — images that Trump’s attorneys had argued would have been used to tarnish the campaign.
Federal Judge Conzalo Curiel also rejected a defense request to dismiss the lawsuit.
On the video issue, Curiel said in his written ruling that “while there is a degree of legitimate public interest in the demeanor of the defendant in the deposition videos,” it did not outweigh the potential harm the ongoing media scrutiny of the footage could do to the case.
Trumps attorneys had argued the video testimony would have been used in campaign attack ads and tainted the jury pool.
Curiel agreed, saying “there is every reason to believe that release of the deposition videos would contribute to an on-going ‘media frenzy’ that would increase the difficulty of seating an impartial jury.”
News organizations argued that the public has a right to the complete record, given how Trump has touted his business acumen and questions that the lawsuits alleging fraud have raised.
The media requested full transcripts and video of Trump testifying at an all-day deposition Dec. 10 at his New York office and for three hours on Jan. 21 in a Las Vegas law office. Nearly all transcripts have been released, and Trump’s attorneys said last month that they won’t oppose unsealing the remaining pieces.
Trump’s attorneys argued that Curiel should follow another judge in a lawsuit involving Hillary Clinton’s email practices. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in the District of Columbia has allowed the release of deposition transcripts but no video. He sided with lawyers for Clinton aide Cheryl Mills, who said “snippets or soundbites of the deposition may be publicized in a way that exploits Ms. Mills’ image and voice in an unfair and misleading manner.”
“The near certainty that the video depositions would be used for political purposes — having nothing to do with the merits of this litigation — only underscores the court’s duty to prevent misuse of these judicial proceedings,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.
The lawsuits allege that Trump University, which wasn’t accredited as a school, gave seminars and classes across the country that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring students to spend up to $35,000 for mentorships and, in the end, failing on its promise to teach success in real estate. Curiel has set Nov. 28 as the trial date for one of the lawsuits.
Lawyers representing Trump University’s former customers say the videos present “a more complete picture” than the transcripts.
Trump’s tone, facial expressions, gestures and body language show “complete and utter unfamiliarity” with Trump University’s instructors and instruction, despite the business mogul’s previous statements that he was extensively involved, the attorneys wrote. They said Trump also made “many spontaneous and ad hominem remarks that are not reflected in the paper transcript of his depositions.”
In portions of Trump’s testimony that have been released, he acknowledged that he plays on people’s fantasies.
The decision comes after Trump called Curiel “a very hostile judge” and a “hater of Donald Trump” in an 11-minute attack at a San Diego rally May 27. Later, he said the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage and membership in a Latino lawyers association posed a conflict with Trump’s positions on illegal immigration and promise to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Those comments drew criticism from Republican leaders, and Trump promised in June to stop talking about the case.
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