Trump claims Trump U judge has ‘absolute conflict’

Mark Sherman
Associated Press

Donald Trump said that the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by former Trump University students has an “absolute conflict” in handling the case because he is “of Mexican heritage.”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told the Wall Street Journal, in an interview in Friday’s edition, that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has “an inherent conflict of interest” because Trump is “building a wall,” a reference to Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump’s comments brought overwhelming disapproval from politicians and lawyers in his own Republican Party. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the statements about the judge: “It’s reasoning I don’t relate to, I completely disagree with the thinking behind that.”

Trump University is the target of two lawsuits in San Diego and one in New York that accuse the business of fleecing students with unfulfilled promises to teach secrets of success in real estate. Trump has maintained that customers were overwhelmingly satisfied with the offerings.

Trump has brought up Curiel’s ethnicity several times this year, including last week at a rally in San Diego. Curiel was born in Indiana and served as a federal prosecutor and a judge in the California state judicial system before being nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011.

In an interview with CNN, aired Friday, Trump noted once again that Curiel is of “Mexican heritage. He’s proud of his heritage,” Trump said, reiterating his intention to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. “I respect him for that.”

“I’ve spoken to so many lawyers who have said this is not a case, this is a case that should have ended,” Trump said.

His comments brought overwhelming disapproval from politicians and lawyers in his own Republican Party. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the statements about the judge: “It’s reasoning I don’t relate to, I completely disagree with the thinking behind that.”

Lorella Praeli, director of Latino outreach for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign, said Friday that Curiel and his family “epitomize the American dream.”

“The fact that Donald Trump doesn’t see Judge Curiel and his family as Americans makes him unfit to be president of this great nation, a nation of immigrants,” Praeli said in a statement.

As Trump works to unify the fractured GOP behind him, Republicans are struggling to show the same enthusiasm Trump has generated among rank-and-file conservatives across the nation.

“He’s a work in progress,” says Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who promised to support the GOP nominee several weeks ago.

Would Trump be a good president? “To me this is a question of alternatives,” Cole told the Associated Press on Friday in a classic lukewarm embrace. “I’m comfortable that he will be a better president than Hillary Clinton.”