Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube

For-Profit Colleges Tap a Fox News Host to Influence Trump

Presidential confidant Pete Hegseth is working to defend a lucrative loophole.

Pete Hegseth appears on “FOX & Friends” on Aug. 09, 2019, in New York City. (John Lamparski/Getty Images)

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Pete Hegseth, the Fox News personality who urged President Donald Trump to pardon service members charged with war crimes, is trying to influence the White House on another military-related cause.

An Army veteran who talks to Trump periodically and has dined with him at the White House, Hegseth traveled to New Orleans in June to address leaders of for-profit colleges at their annual convention. They are pushing to enroll more veterans, a lucrative class of students — and Hegseth is the face of the colleges’ new campaign to defend a favorable carve-out in federal law.

Under the law, for-profit colleges can’t receive more than 90% of their revenue from federal education funds. The logic, according to the staffer who drafted the provision, was that the education should be good enough that at least some students are willing to pay. But veterans’ benefits, such as GI Bill stipends, don’t count as federal education funds (even though they also come from the federal government).

This “90/10 loophole” means that for every veteran enrolled, a school can admit nine more students using federal loans. Veterans advocates and congressional investigators say this loophole leads to predatory and deceptive marketing tactics that sometimes leave veterans with unexpected debt and useless degrees if schools lose their accreditation or go out of business.

Hegseth has pushed back on that criticism, framing the issue as protecting veterans’ freedom to choose where they go to school. Speaking at the Career Education Colleges and Universities convention in New Orleans, Hegseth pledged to use his relationship with Trump to fend off legislation to close the 90/10 loophole.

“Right now you’ve got a president that would veto the bad stuff,” he said in the speech, which was flagged at the time by Media Matters, a Democrat-aligned group that scrutinizes Fox News and other right-wing media. “And if he ever gave me a call — and sometimes he does — I’d tell him that.”

Trump has indeed dialed Hegseth into the Oval Office to discuss veterans policy and considered appointing him as secretary of veterans affairs. A frequent presence on the president’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” Hegseth has interviewed Trump on the air multiple times and been the subject of several of Trump’s adoring tweets. Hegseth prominently encouraged Trump to grant pardons or other relief in high-profile war crimes cases, which the president he did on Friday.

Since June, Hegseth has given at least 11 speeches for CECU and related groups, according to posts on his Twitter feed and the organizations’ websites. One of the appearances billed his keynote as “sponsored by Career Education Colleges and Universities.”

Hegseth declined to comment. “I can’t give interviews because I work for Fox News,” he said before hanging up. He did not respond to follow-up questions sent by text message.

Fox News and CECU didn’t respond to requests for comment.

While Hegseth and CECU would not discuss his compensation, he has in the past spoken to political groups that paid $5,000 to $10,000 to his agency, Premiere Speakers Bureau, according to campaign finance records compiled by Media Matters. Premiere did not respond to requests for comment.

CECU has paid another advocate, Callista Gingrich, at least $5,000, according to the financial disclosure she filed for her appointment as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.

In addition to the speeches, Hegseth published two op-eds, on the websites of Fox News and The Hill. The articles defend for-profit colleges and attack veterans groups that oppose the 90/10 loophole. Neither article disclosed Hegseth’s work for CECU. A spokeswoman for The Hill, Lisa Dallos, said Hegseth told the newspaper he doesn’t have a “paid relationship” with CECU and signed paperwork saying he doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment about Hegseth’s advocacy efforts. (Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has also championed for-profit schools.) But Hegseth’s suggestion that Trump would use his veto pen to protect for-profit colleges is looking less hypothetical than in June when he spoke in New Orleans.

On Thursday, four senators introduced the upper chamber’s first-ever bipartisan bill to close the 90/10 loophole. “This bill puts reasonable protections in place that are fair to veterans, taxpayers, and schools,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., one of the co-sponsors, said in a statement. “This bill is a bipartisan solution to put the best interest of our veterans first while also recognizing that the majority of for-profit post-secondary institutions, but unfortunately not all, offer quality programs that accommodate the needs and unique skill sets of our veterans and servicemembers.”

The senators’ announcement for the bill included endorsements from the American Legion and Veterans Education Success, which were both called out by name in Hegseth’s most recent op-ed, as well as from seven other organizations representing veterans and service members.

Do you have access to information that should be public about veterans at for-profit colleges? Email Isaac at isaac@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on Trump’s VA.

Filed under:

Protect Independent Journalism

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded ten years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. A decade (and five Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth, and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers and we hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that holds people in power to account and produces real change.

Your donation will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From the Trump Administration, criminal justice, health care, immigration and so much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Portrait of Isaac Arnsdorf

Isaac Arnsdorf

Isaac Arnsdorf is a reporter at ProPublica covering national politics.

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page