But Trump clearly had little knowledge of how Trump University ran. He insisted he had reviewed resumes of teachers, but couldn’t remember many of their names, how they were chosen, or what they taught. He could not explain what students received in the apprentice or Gold Elite programs. He did not recall receiving a letter from the New York Department of Education demanding that the company drop the “university” moniker. Asked whether he’d reviewed an agreement, he replied, “Probably. I mean, I have lawyers that do this. I don’t think I did it, but I have lawyers that do it, yes.” He couldn’t recall whether he owned certain business entities and deferred questions to his lawyer. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Mr. Garten. It could be. I think so, but I just don’t know specifically, but you could ask Mr. Garten,” he said.
Instead, Trump argued that he didn’t really know how Trump University worked, deferring to a lieutenant who ran it, producing this surreal exchange:
Q: And who is running Trump University?
Trump: Michael Sexton.
Q: Is he still to this day running Trump University?
Trump: Well, he’s the one that has been responsible for it, yes.
Q: And are you aware that he’s no longer been with the company since July of 2010?
Trump: Yes. A period of time, yes.
But not knowing what’s really going on among one’s lieutenants can come in handy. That’s especially true if, say, one’s campaign is under investigation for colluding with Russia. There is at this point no doubt that Trump aides were in contact with Russia, both before and after the election, and that they for some reason tried to cover it up. Both Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about contacts with Russians. Add to this the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, and in which Trump Jr. has said he hoped to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
While the question of collusion is basically settled, there is not yet any evidence to prove that crimes were committed—nor, importantly, is there any evidence that proves that Donald Trump was aware of any of these contacts. Trump’s apparent removal from his company’s activities in past depositions could help Trump bolster a claim that he was unaware of what his aides, including his son and son-in-law, were doing on the campaign. In the Trump Hotel deposition, he seems barely aware of his son’s actions on the restaurant lease.
Of course, that won’t help Trump if Mueller is in fact more interested in obstruction of justice than he is in collusion. But the depositions show that Trump is also experienced in the favorite tactic of people being asked uncomfortable questions under oath: Profess having no recollection. Time and again, Trump told attorneys that he didn’t remember certain incidents or facts. Judgments on just how credible this will depend on who’s making the judgment, though as the opposing counsel in the Trump University case pointed out, Trump has in the past bragged that he has one of the best memories in the world.
The deponent didn’t recall that either. “I don’t remember that. I remember you telling me, but I don’t know that I said it,” Trump said.