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Race to the bottom?

Allegations of fraud and abuse of power dog presidential front-runners

Donald Trump, left, and Hillary Clinton Trump: Scott Olson/Getty Images • Clinton: Kevin Lamarque/pool/AP

Race to the bottom?
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In the hot summer stretch before political conventions and presidential elections, the two presumptive nominees already have nicknames for each other: “Crooked Hillary” and “dangerous” Donald.

The monikers may be signposts for the race ahead: two candidates trying to prove which one is more untrustworthy for the highest office in the nation.

Donald Trump’s case against Hillary Clinton strengthened in May, with a stinging report from the U.S. inspector general that found Clinton violated State Department guidelines when setting up a private email server in her home during her tenure as secretary of state.

The email scandal has dogged Clinton for more than a year, but even as she apparently clinched enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination, the revelations brought fresh fodder for her opponents.

While Clinton’s camp has insisted her home server was never compromised, the government review showed two previously undisclosed emails from a Bill Clinton aide in 2011 warning a Hillary Clinton adviser: “Someone was trying to hack us.”

Later the same day, the aide sent another email: “We were attacked again so I shut [the server] down for a few [minutes].” For a server containing tens of thousands of emails belonging to the highest foreign policy official in the U.S. government, attempted hacking may be less a blip and more a breach.

Clinton handed over 52,000 pages of emails she said contained work-related material. She says she deleted another 30,000 emails, and claimed they were personal.

Government officials censored hundreds of the work emails before releasing them over the last year. The State Department declared 22 of the emails top secret. The matter is under FBI investigation.

While Clinton also insisted the private server and email “were allowed by the State Department,” the report said there’s “no evidence” she sought approval. The government agencies overseeing cybersecurity “did not—and would not—approve” of her personal account, according to the review.

Two government employees expressed concerns in 2010 that the private server could compromise laws on preserving federal records. The report says their supervisor told the employees “never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”

Clinton has said she would “talk to anybody, anytime” about the email system. But when the inspector general’s office asked for an interview during its investigation of the former secretary of state, Clinton declined.

With more investigations and civil suits pending, Clinton likely won’t be able to dodge more questions about national security concerns and deleted emails in the coming months.

Trump has declared: “She’s guilty as h---.” But when it comes to ongoing legal questions about Trump’s business dealings, the GOP candidate insists he is innocent. Less than a week after the Clinton report, a federal judge released documents related to a civil suit in California against Trump and his now-defunct “Trump University.”

The documents contain testimony saying the educational venture Trump owned swindled customers out of thousands of dollars using high-pressure sales tactics and encouraged buyers to purchase real estate classes they couldn’t afford.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” said former Trump University sales manager Ronald Schnackenberg. “And that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

Schnackenberg says another employee reprimanded him for discouraging a couple from signing up for a $35,000 class he thought they couldn’t afford. Another salesman persuaded them.

One internal document urged sales managers to encourage customers to use their credit cards if they couldn’t afford a class: “We teach the technique of using OPM … Other People’s Money.” Former employee Corrine Sommer said colleagues encouraged students to open additional credit cards to pay for classes they couldn’t afford.

Jason Nicholas, another former salesman, said he remembered pitches that promised Trump would be “actively involved” in the classes. “This was not true,” he said. He called the school “a façade, a total lie.”

Former students testified they spent lots of money for little return, but other students said they were pleased with their classes.

Still, the ongoing civil suit is likely to follow Trump during his presidential bid, particularly after he declared the judge overseeing his case should recuse himself because “he’s Mexican.” Trump implied the judge would be biased since “we are building a wall between here and Mexico.”

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is an American born in Indiana to Mexican parents who had immigrated to the United States and became citizens. In the late 1990s, he spent months hiding in government protection after a Mexican drug lord threatened to have Curiel assassinated for his efforts to prosecute him. The drug lord—who was wanted in his home country for murder—had been arrested in San Diego.

Curiel was trying to extradite him—back to Mexico.


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