Nightly News | April 19, 2011
>>> good evening. while it's early yet and there are no established candidates on the gop side, donald trump is running first or second in a lot of the early polls. he is among the best-known names in this country, in part because that name is all over the place, on everything from buildings to tv shows on this network. trump 's message in large part is that he could do in government what he has done in business. and tonight we have a look at some of what he's done in business, including some who have reason to doubt that trump name. we begin tonight with the reporting of nbc news national investigative correspondent michael isikoff . living in america
>> reporter: donald trump says he's a fantastically successful billionaire businessman and would make a good president.
>> i have built a great company. i've done a great job. i put a lot of people to work.
>> reporter: but a closer look at trump 's business records also shows high-profile bankruptcy filings, multimillion-dollar real estate deals that went sour, and a trail of ongoing lawsuits accusing trump of deceptive business practices .
>> the only thing that's brilliant about donald trump is his ability to get publicity and to promote himself. in that way he's a contemporary p.t. barnum .
>> i don't think i exaggerate any more than anybody else. and it's interesting. it then becomes successful and everybody says, oh, what a great salesman he is. he's the greatest salesman on earth. excuse me. don't i have to build it? don't i have to get the zoning? don't i have to get the financing? don't i have to do all these things?
>> reporter: trump owns luxury properties all over the world and makes millions licensing consumer products . he's a brand name and a tough boss. trump rules on his hit show, "the apprentice," now in its fifth season on nbc.
>> and gary, you're fired.
>> reporter: but some critics say his own management should have gotten him fired. trump hotels and casinos in atlantic city filed for bankruptcy protection three times. they've since emerged from bankruptcy. his name still on them. trump argues competition and rough market forces were responsible and others were in control.
>> wait a second. you were chairman of the board.
>> excuse me.
>> you were chairman of the board.
>> i was chairman, but i didn't run the company. i had nothing to do with running the company. management --
>> you were paid $2 million a year --
>> excuse me. i didn't run the company. i'm just telling you.
>> so what were you paid $2 million a year for?
>> excuse me. because of my genius. okay?
>> reporter: many of trump 's real estate projects are actually owned by others, who license the right to use his name. consider trump tower tampa, a 52-story luxury condominium that trump personally showed up to endorse in 2005 .
>> i've had great luck in florida or whatever you want to call it. you could call it luck. you can call it talent.
>> reporter: the project looks spectacular but never got off the ground. resulting in a tangled web of lawsuits, including one by more than 30 condo buyers.
>> donald trump left us high and dry .
>> reporter: elaine lucadano says she lost her $45,000 investment.
>> the dream turned into a nightmare for us unfortunately. the building was never built. mr. trump took off on us when times got tough. he misled us into thinking that he was a partner in this entire project when actually he was just a licensor.
>> reporter: trump disputes the allegations, and in this deposition again blamed the market.
>> to be honest with you, they were better off the building wasn't built.
>> don't make it like a big deal . they put down a deposit on condominium building --
>> and they lost.
>> excuse me. and they paid a lot of money for it because the market was good. had the building been built they would have never closed because the units would have been worth like everything else in florida, nothing to do with me --
>> reporter: then there's trump university . no actual campus or degrees. but students, some of whom are now suing, plunked down up to $35,000 for seminars.
>> we're going to teach you about business. we're going to teach you better than the business schools are going to teach you.
>> 97% approval rating from the people that went there.
>> reporter: but last year new york state regulators demanded trump stop calling it a university. and he did. and the texas attorney general 's office opened an investigation into possible deceptive trade practices. which was dropped after the school stopped doing business in the state.
>> why did you call it a university?
>> because we didn't know there was any rules or regulations about using the name university. we didn't --
>> you didn't check that out?
>> i think probably they felt that we would have qualified. if we didn't qualify, that's fine. we changed the name.
>> as you take a step back from all this, i mean, if somebody were to say what have you learned from your successes, what have you learned from your failures that are relevant to considering you as a possible president?
>> well, first of all, my successes, and i think you will attest to this, have been vast. i don't even view myself as having failures, and i certainly learn from things that don't work out as well.
>> reporter: i also pressed trump about the birther issue, which has gotten him traction in the polls. brian, when i spoke to hawaiian officials, they said trump 's charges that president obama is concealing information about his birth are ludicrous and that the records in state files are completely consistent with the certification of live birth that he's already released. i asked trump today if he thought hawaiian officials are lying, and he didn't answer the question.
>> all this while he still says he's mulling an official run. michael isikoff , our national investigative correspondent, thanks.