When Donald Trump informally ended his “birther” crusade against President Obama, he declared he just wouldn’t talk about it anymore. The Donald appears to be following the same playbook with his war against Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
In a lengthy statement blasted out to reporters Tuesday afternoon, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said he will no longer comment on the fraud lawsuits against Trump University—and in turn will stop lambasting Curiel, the judge presiding over the case.
For several months, Trump has specifically targeted Curiel over his Mexican heritage (he was born in Indiana), claiming it is a “conflict of interest” for him to preside over the case due to the billionaire businessman’s stance on immigration and inflammatory remarks about Mexican immigrants.
The decision to stop discussing the lawsuits comes just a day after Trump overrode his campaign staff by telling surrogates to continue attacking not only Curiel, but reporters who question whether the attacks are racist.
In his Tuesday statement, Trump went after the media even further, depicting journalists as dishonest for “one inaccuracy after another” when reporting on the Trump University lawsuits and the subsequent reactions of elected officials from his own party.
“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage,” Trump said. “I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.”
The billionaire businessman added that he was concerned about his ability to have a fair trial “given my unique circumstances as nominee of the Republican Party and the core issues of my campaign that focus on illegal immigration, jobs and unfair trade.”
Trump ultimately said it was “fair” for him to question the judge’s impartiality due to “mistaken rulings” and Curiel’s “reported associations with certain professional organizations.”
But the targeted attacks against Curiel were not a recent fixture of Trump’s anything-goes presidential bid; it wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark he made in a fit of anger.
Since at least February, the former reality television star has publicly highlighted the judge’s ethnicity as a point of potential conflict in the ongoing litigation -- despite remaining steadfast in his argument that the media is to blame for bringing this story to light and misrepresenting it.
“I think it has to do perhaps with the fact that I'm very, very strong on the border, very, very strong at the border, and he has been extremely hostile to me,” Trump said in February when asked what the judge’s ethnicity has to do with a class action lawsuit against his defunct university. This came after he personally devoted time to discussing the judge’s ethnicity at a rally in Arkansas, musing that Curiel was “Spanish” or “Hispanic.”
Curiel’s ethnicity hasn’t been a dog-whistle issue for Trump that can be swept aside with a lengthy press statement, critics say. Trump has repeated the attacks for months, likely as a way to distract from the uglier fraud allegations of the case and deligitimize its presiding arbiter.
Just four days ago, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that Curiel had an “absolute conflict“ in his role because of his “Mexican heritage.” And when asked nearly half a dozen times about the validity of his attacks against Curiel by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump repeated a mantra: “He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico.” That was the reason why, according to Trump, Curiel can’t effectively do his job.
However, Trump also once defended his own sister—federal court judge Maryanne Barry Trump—by saying that her personal beliefs did not impact her ability to do her job.
“When my sister Maryanne Trump Barry, one of the brightest and most capable people on the federal bench, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on her elevation to a federal judgeship in the Third Circuit Court, [New Hampshire Senator Bob] Smith insisted on asking her views on abortion,” Trump wrote in his 2000 book The America We Deserve.
“She patiently explained to the good senator that her personal views on the issue were meaningless; a federal judge’s job is to uphold the law as it is written, not to interpret from the bench based on his or her personal views. Maybe if my sister had spoken more slowly.”
As essentially every major Republican figure—including VP hopeful Newt Gingrich and Trump backer Paul Ryan—slowly backed away from the real estate mogul’s crusade against Curiel, the only people left waving his flag were white nationalists.
Trump has managed to avoid facing trial while the presidential campaign progresses—the class action suit in San Diego is set to proceed in November around which time the federal New York case will commence—but recent documents released from the case have only exacerbated the educational institution's shady practices. One star student who favorably reviewed the university in the past told The Daily Beast that it was in fact “a con.” This is all while Trump inexplicably is raking in more money from an enterprise that hasn’t been running for years.
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s likely opponent in the general election, called him a “fraud” after Curiel unsealed testimony from former Trump University staff members who labeled the entire program a “fraudulent scheme.”
While the case is set to go to trial in November, and Trump promises these attacks are over, he likely won’t keep quiet about it until then.
“When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it,” Trump once wrote.
“I always get even.”