Could Trump U. videos fuel further negativity in 2016 campaigns?

Defense attorneys in the Trump University lawsuit are arguing against the release of the presidential candidate's video testimony. 

Chris Schneider/Reuters/File
A Trump supporter argues with an anti-Trump protestor in Denver, outside where U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was speaking. The presidential campaign has come to be characterized by animosity and negativity.

The latest contention in the Trump University case brought against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump involves video footage of depositions given by Trump last winter, when the business magnate testified against claims that his real-estate boot camps were an expensive scam. 

US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel must decide whether to release the videos, which include hours of testimony for the class-action lawsuit that alleges that the real estate training program was a costly fraud. Trump's questioning of whether Judge Curiel could be objective, because he is Latino, soon made headlines in and of itself.

Trump’s lawyers fear that the release of the video footage would be remixed into political attack ads. It is a fear that is likely not without basis in a campaign that has turned increasingly adversarial, with attack ads, name-calling, and voters who seem just as likely to be against one candidate as for the other.

"The near certainty that the video depositions would be used for political purposes – having nothing to do with the merits of this litigation – only underscores the court's duty to prevent misuse of these judicial proceedings," wrote Trump's attorneys, who will meet with Judge Curiel today, according to the Associated Press. 

The testimony's potential to feed attack ads has parallels to the lawsuit that faced Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton over her unauthorized use of a private server for State Department emails. In that case, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan released the deposition transcripts but no video. Judge Sullivan agreed with lawyers for one of Clinton's aides, Cheryl Mills, who argued that "snippets or soundbites of the deposition may be publicized in a way that exploits Ms. Mills' image and voice in an unfair and misleading manner."

Most of the transcripts for Trump's testimony have already been released. Last month, his attorneys said that they are not opposed to the release of the remaining documents.

Lawyers for Trump University’s former students, as well as news organizations, are clamoring for the footage. Media outlets claim the public has a right to the complete information, while lawyers say the footage gives "a more complete picture" of Trump's lack of knowledge about the school, despite his claims that he was actively involved. 

It remains to be seen how the Clinton campaign would use the footage, were it released. However, they might become more fodder in a campaign that has become increasingly focused on negative attacks on the other candidate.

Although both parties have incorporated negativity, their methods have differed, as the Monitor reported in May. While the tone of Trump's primary campaign was characterized by crude references and derogatory insults, Clinton has stuck to more traditional political slurs like "loose cannon" and at times relied on others to do the criticism for her – an ad using clips of prominent Republicans criticizing Trump, for example.

"Both Trump and Hillary are going highly negative, but there's a sharp contrast between the two," Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, told the Monitor's Francine Kiefer. Democratic campaigning has been more focused on issues, he says, and, "You don't have stuff from the National Inquirer and dirty things said."

However, as the campaign advances, Clinton campaigners like Elizabeth Warren have also stepped into the muddy attack arena and adopted Trump's brand of punchy, heavy-hitting personal critique, calling him an "insecure moneygrubber," and leveraging Twitter – one of his crucial media tools.

Trump, who has been relatively reserved in his attacks on Clinton after FBI director James B. Comey strongly criticized her use of the email server, went to Twitter to criticize "the system" that didn't indict her. In a more traditional approach, the Republican National Committee promptly released a video ad highlighting Clinton's "top five email lies."

As the campaigns wear into their final months and candidate controversies continue to rear their heads, it doesn't appear that negative strategies will diminish. Both candidates have unfavorable ratings of 50 percent or more, according to Gallup, whether as a result of this negative campaigning or a factor contributing to it. 

Strains of negative rhetoric have also been apparent in former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' initial emphasis on defeating Trump, rather than enthusiastically supporting Clinton, or the #nevertrump movement.

The dynamic may ultimately impact voter turn-out, come November: Gallup data indicates that voters are driven to the polls by a candidates who are “inspiring,” “cares about individuals,” and “visionary” – qualities that both Clinton and Trump score low on, in potential voters' eyes.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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