Conflict of Interest! CNN's Cuomo Interviews New York's Atty General -- But His Brother Is the Governor

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo's brother is the Democratic Governor of New York, yet he made no disclosure of that relationship on Monday while reporting on the state's Democratic Attorney General suing Donald Trump.

In fact, Cuomo interviewed both men on Monday's New Day but Trump was the one to spill the beans about the Cuomo family ties: "Your brother would know much better, but they were soliciting us during the investigation for campaign contributions to our attorney general who's a total lightweight, by the way. You know that, I know that."

"Hold on a second. Hold on a second. Don't say what I know," Cuomo interjected. "Don't get me in trouble. You can say whatever you want about the AG, but that's your opinion."

Yet Cuomo had already invited the "trouble" of a journalistic conflict of interest. The state's Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are in the same political party and the same administration, and the state is filing the suit against Trump's university. The Cuomos are brothers.

And Cuomo showed a bias when he pointed to the power of the attorney general's office and warned Trump to tread lightly. "I have to believe that Mr. Trump stirring the pot is not actually helping him with your office. Fair assessment?" he teed up Schneiderman, who arguably was the first one to "stir the pot" by filing the lawsuit.

Cuomo implied a warning to Trump: "This ain't the media. This is the attorney general of the state of New York. You think it's time to listen to your lawyers and just keep it low profile for a while before you get somebody with a lot of power very angry at you?"

Cuomo admitted as much on Twitter, when a commenter noted he "basically suggested Trump should STFU and let his lawyers talk." He replied, "Good advice?"

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on New Day on August 26 at 7:42 a.m. EDT:

KATE BOLDUAN: Welcome back to New Day. A $40 million lawsuit filed against Donald Trump by the state of New York. It charges Trump's real estate school was making false claims – false promises – and bilking thousands of students out of money. In just a moment, we're going to hear from the man who filed that lawsuit, New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, but first here is CNN's Alison Kosik with the background.

(Video Clip)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN business correspondent (voice-over): He is America's most famous billionaire, never one to shy away from the spotlight. From his Apprentice reality show to his almost-run for the White House to his demand that President Obama hand over his birth certificate, now Donald Trump is grabbing headlines again in a bombshell lawsuit accusing him of fraud.

DONALD TRUMP, real estate mogul: At Trump University we teach success. That's what it is all about. Success. It is going to happen to you.

KOSIK: But New York State's attorney general says that promise was empty for students at the real estate mogul's investment school, Trump University. The state wants $40 million for what it says the school wrongly took from people who attended classes.

TRUMP: We are going to teach you about business. We're going to teach you better than the business schools are going to teach you.

KOSIK: It alleges Trump misled prospective students with a bait-and-switch. If they wanted to get rich they'd have to pay $1,500 for a three-day work shop. Once there, then came the push for a yearlong course at $35,000. The lawsuit says instructors even urged students to call their credit card companies to increase their limits so they could sink even more money into classes.

Classes Trump defended in a tweet saying there was a 98 percent approval rating of students per courses. Another allegation says students were told Trump would make an appearance during the seminars. Instead they had their photo taken with a life-sized picture of him.

LAURA RIES, marketing strategist: They wanted to be near Donald Trump and I think that was the biggest problem in terms of people being disappointed.

(voice-over): A Trump attorney says the lawsuit has no merit, that it's a cheap publicity stunt. Alison Kosik, CNN, New York.

(End Video Clip)

CUOMO: Well, here to refute Trump's claim that the lawsuit is a stunt is the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman himself. Thank you for being here, Mr. Attorney General. Appreciate it. Can you tell us – this lawsuit wasn't initially targeting Mr. Trump. It was part of a larger investigation, right? Tell us about it.

ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN, New York attorney general: Well, we have been looking into for-profit schools. We just had a $10 million settlement with another one a week or so ago. And we started looking at Trump University and discovered that it was a classic bait-and-switch scheme. It was a scam, starting with the fact that it was not a university. They never registered. They lied. Part of the charges are they lied to the State Department of Education repeatedly. They never got their teachers certified as required by New York law. They promised they were going to teach people with handpicked experts by Donald Trump.

The teachers were neither handpicked nor experts. Some of them had actually just come out of bankruptcy from their real estate ventures. And it was really just a bait-and-switch. People were told in the free seminar you have to pay for the $1,500 seminar. $1,500 seminar. They were told you have got to go with these elite packages that range from $10,000 to $35,000. And we've got the play book. Our – the papers we filed already include the playbook telling the Trump instructors what to say and they were clearly instructed that if even one of them broke ranks and didn't say you need to buy the more expensive packages that would hurt the whole enterprise. So we've got all the evidence.

CUOMO: Can you show that Trump knew because, you know, he lends his name to lots of things.

SCHNEIDERMAN: We've had the testimony – sworn testimony of the former president of Trump University who says –  Mr. Trump claims he wrote the curriculum and was very involved. So he said it himself. The president said that he insisted on seeing all the promotional materials – Trump – and he was the pitchman. He was in all the videos. People came to the seminars thinking they were going to meet him. In fact, all they got was the chance was stand next to a life-sized poster of Mr. Trump to make it appear as though they had met him. He clearly was involved.

CUOMO: Mr. Trump is coming at you personally. He says that you were begging him for campaign contributions and that's what this is about. Your response?

SCHNEIDERMAN: Listen we're used to – prosecutors are all used to people who commit fraud making wild accusations when they're caught and it's just an effort to distract from the substance of the case. The substance of the case he has not rebutted in any way, shape, or form. We have provided in our pleadings copies of the ads, copies of the scripts, transcripts of what his instructors said. We have dozens of affidavits and complaints that came to our office, Better Business Bureaus already, and there are more coming in all the time from students.

CUOMO: He says you met with the President on Thursday, filed this on Saturday suggesting a connection. Fair to say Mr. Trump did not come up when you met the President of the United States?

SCHNEIDERMAN: The President and I had much more important stuff to talk about than Donald Trump. And he was giving a speech about education in Syracuse and the affordability. Trump didn't come up. I've never discussed Mr. Trump with the President of the United States and he didn't know anything about this case.

CUOMO: Mr. Trump also says he could have settled this suit if he wanted to, but he is not going to now. He's taking it all the way. Do you have an interest in settlement or are you going to litigate?

SCHNEIDERMAN: We are always open to discussions. But this is a pretty straightforward case. The documents that we've submitted already I think pretty much entitle us to a judgment. Again, we have got the sworn testimony of the former president of the Trump University acknowledging pretty much everything I've told you, that they didn't comply with the law. He called it an oversight. That they forgot to do all the things they told the State Department of Education. This is a case that's going to move quickly.

CUOMO: I have to believe that Mr. Trump stirring the pot is not actually helping him with your office. Fair assessment?

SCHNEIDERMAN: I think that's fair to say. He is a showman. And he doesn't seem to think there is any such thing as a bad headline where he is concerned. It'd probably be better if he was listening to his lawyers.

CUOMO: Mr. Attorney general, thank you for joining us this morning. I appreciate your perspective on the case. And in the next hour, we are going to get live reaction from Donald Trump himself. Kate, over to you.

(...)

[8:21]

CUOMO: The attorney general from New York, it sounds like he's saying "you're fired" when it comes to this Trump University. Are you worried?

TRUMP: We have a – and had a great school. The school did a terrific job. 98 percent approval. Of course, he doesn't mention this. We sort of gave a report card on ourselves to every student that took the course. We had a 98 percent – If you go to Wharton, if you go to Harvard, they don't have a 98 percent approval rating. We had a 98 percent approval rating, Chris. People loved the school.

The school was terrific. And we got sued for lots of different reasons, primarily, once again, publicity. He was angry that I didn't give him the kind of cut. You know, they were soliciting, Chris. I don't know if you know this. Your brother would know much better, but they were soliciting us during the investigation for campaign contributions to our attorney general who's a total lightweight, by the way. You know that, I know that.

(Crosstalk)

CUOMO: Hold on a second. Hold on a second. Don't say what I know. Mr. Trump –

TRUMP: – he's an incompetent attorney general. He figured he could get some publicity on Trump's back. The bottom line is, the school was very, very successful. We didn't think we were going to get sued because of the fact that we have a 98 percent approval rating. You know, Chris, you can go on television at night and you see all these different schools and all these different characters on television talking about get rich and do this and do that. Our school was terrific. We had wonderful people and it's a shame.

CUOMO: All right. Let me get in for a second, Mr. Trump. Don't get me in trouble. You can say whatever you want about the AG, but that's your opinion. We asked him about the approval rating. He likened it to a Ponzi scheme, like a Madoff scam and said, hey, often, when people are getting fleeced, they don't know it, and they say they like the system that they're in. That was the analogy to Trump University.

(...)

CUOMO: He says it's a non-issue, but let me ask you this, Mr. Trump. I know you've got a busy day. You are very aggressive. When somebody comes at you, you come at them twice as hard. All of us in the media know that. This ain't the media. This is the attorney general of the state of New York. You think it's time to listen to your lawyers and just keep it low profile for a while before you get somebody with a lot of power very angry at you?

TRUMP: No, I don't care. I don't care. I've had people angry at me all my life. I mean this is the way I lead my life. I'm a very honest person. I say what's on my mind. If I thought I was guilty – I could have settled this case very easily. It was a very easy case to settle, they wanted to settle. I could have settled it, I chose not to.

They actually thought I'd settle because I wouldn't want to take bad publicity. I'm used to bad publicity. I get plenty of it. I get plenty of good, too, but I get bad publicity. No, I have -- the truth is, we have 98 percent. We have a lot of happy students. They'll all be testifying. We'll get many, many, many people to testify about how they loved it. And, we'll see what happens. I mean, we're just going to see what happens. But no, I don't have any qualms about that at all.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014