President Trump’s surrogates seemed to take a certain kind of glee in shaming those accused Tuesday of participating in a college admissions scandal.
Fifty people — including two television stars — were charged with scheming and bribing to get their children into elite universities. Numerous schools were involved, including Georgetown, Yale, Stanford, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Parents were accused of paying off university officials, helping children cheat on entrance exams and lying about extracurricular accomplishments. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called it the largest college admissions scam prosecuted by the Justice Department.
“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” he said Tuesday. “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either.”
In the hours after the announcement, a handful of Trump’s top surrogates took to Twitter to attack and mock the most high-profile parents, including TV stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, ensnared in the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues.
Donald Trump Jr. joined in, too, quoting a now-deleted Loughlin post in which she said there are more important things in life than money. Trump Jr.’s response: “Hollywood.”
He also tweeted:
But Trump Jr.’s attacks ignore his own family’s history related to higher education.
Although the president and his extended family have not been accused of the kind of fraud that Loughlin and Huffman are alleged to have been part of, news reports and investigations suggest the Trumps used money and connections to ease their access to top schools.
When the president transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s business school after two years of receiving “respectable” grades at Fordham University, he was able to interview with a “friendly” Wharton admissions officer who was a former classmate of Trump’s older brother, according to Gwenda Blair’s book “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire.”
According to Tim O’Brien, author of “Trump Nation,” the president has given at least $1.5 million to Wharton, which Trump Jr. and his sister Ivanka also attended. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the school’s newspaper, “This string of donations Trump may have made in the late nineties roughly coincides with his children’s enrollment at Penn. Donald J. Trump Jr. began classes at Penn in 1996 and Ivanka Trump in 2000.”
The president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, was allegedly admitted to Harvard only after his father donated millions.
According to Daniel Golden’s “The Price of Admission,” New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner pledged $2.5 million to Harvard shortly before his son Jared was admitted to the school. A former official at the Frisch School — Kushner’s high school — told Golden:
“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard. His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”
Of course, using connections and donations to gain an admissions advantage is not unique to Trump or Kushner. As Slate put it, “The children of influential and wealthy power brokers like former vice president Al Gore or New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner often appear to receive preferential treatment from prestigious schools because of a combination of their families’ influence and sizeable donations.” What’s more notable is the way Trump Jr. and his father have effectively sold themselves as outsiders even as they’ve repeatedly benefited from privilege.