The president of the University of North Texas said he tried but failed to stop Donald Trump Jr. from giving a high-profile speech at the school later this month, according to emails he sent faculty members.
Neal Smatresk, the president of UNT, wrote that he was "not enthused" that the president's son would be the keynote speaker at a lecture series financed and arranged by major donors. "I am trying to stop it, but it isn't an easy thing," he wrote in August to a professor who expressed concern about the speech.
"Untangling this donor advised talk is more difficult than I expected," he wrote in another note.
Smatresk's exchanges were among more than a thousand pages of emails obtained by The Dallas Morning News through a public-records request. The correspondence provides new details about the speech, which has provoked controversy at the school over its political implications and its $100,000 price tag.
While many UNT speakers are brought to campus by and for students, the university has marketed Trump's lecture on Oct. 24 to conservatives and business leaders as a place to network while raising scholarship money. Table sponsorships for the lecture series start at $5,000 and go as high as $100,000. Sponsorship payments are eligible for a federal tax deduction.
In past years, the series has netted between $18,000 and $235,000, according to school documents. As of mid-September, the school projected that the series this year would net $13,000, according to documents reviewed by The News. UNT said the number could change because fundraising is continuing.
In an invitation to Trump, obtained by The News, the university promised a breakfast with "like-minded" people. Fundraisers talked up the opportunity for Texans to have their photos taken with Trump at the stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play. A university executive met with a staffer from the Dallas County Republican Party to ask for help boosting the event.
Trump's $100,000 speaking fee is coming from a tax advisory firm owned by Brint Ryan, according to UNT. Ryan, who is head of the school's Board of Regents, used political and business connections to land the real estate executive as a speaker.
A donor who has provided campaign cash for former Texas Gov. and current U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott, Ryan advised President Trump on tax reform issues, according to Politico.
Neither Ryan nor Trump responded to repeated requests for comment.
In a statement, Smatresk turned down an interview request and declined to discuss his correspondence with faculty members.
"It isn't surprising that some members of our faculty have strong opinions about the selection of this speaker and have chosen to express their viewpoints," he said, stressing that the speakers series raises money for student scholarships.
UNT is covering up to $5,000 in travel expenses for Trump, according to their contract, and will also pay for security.
The speech is part of a lecture series started in 2013 by Ernie Kuehne, an alumnus and major donor to the university. A former UNT track star, Kuehne is a lawyer, oilman and banker. All three of his children, Trip, Kelli and Hank, have won United States Golf Association championships.
The Kuehne lecture series has raised more than $1.5 million, said Kelley Reese, a spokeswoman for the university. Starting this year, it will contribute $50,000 for five student scholarships.
"UNT is proud of the Kuehne Speaker Series and the quality of speakers it features," Reese said. "One of the series' goals is to illuminate topics of interest to its prospective sponsors and to educate attendees while raising money for student scholarships."
Previous speakers have included Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during the Sept. 11 attacks; oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens; former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank president Richard Fisher; and Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency; and four FOX News personalities.
The website for the lecture program says "Donald Trump Jr. is a businessman, and the oldest son of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. He is the Executive Vice President for the Trump Organization."
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton school, as was his father, Trump is an outdoorsman with links to Dallas big-game hunters. He has considerable ties to Dallas-area Republicans.
During his father's campaign, Trump visited Dallas and worked with businessmen Ray Washburne and Roy Bailey, who were key leaders in fundraising for the Trump presidential campaign. Washburne, part owner of the upscale Highland Park Village shopping center, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August as the president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
More recently, Trump has come under scrutiny by a federal prosecutor for meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 with Russians who claimed to have information damaging to Hillary Clinton.
That investigation was one of the issues cited by 87 faculty members who wrote an open letter last month asking the university to rescind his invitation to speak.
Last year, many departments at the school bought tables to support the speaker series.
UNT officials began planning for this year's lecture season in late 2016, several weeks before Trump was inaugurated president.
Their first choice for a headliner appeared to be Ivanka Trump, not her brother.
In December, school officials drafted a letter to her, which was edited by Ryan, the regents chairman.
It's unclear whether the letter was actually delivered. After Trump's inauguration, Ivanka Trump became one of the president's official advisers.
In March, Donald Trump Jr. was the featured speaker for the Dallas County Republican Party's Reagan Day Dinner, a fundraiser at the Omni Hotel that hauled in over $500,000 for the local GOP. Ryan spoke to Trump that weekend.
"I had a great conversation with Don and he said he would seriously consider it," Ryan wrote in an email to David Broughton, a senior executive in the university's fundraising department.
"I need to send him the official request, so can you get that to me right away? I've even got the Lt. Governor helping with this now!"
Dan Patrick and Trump have a good relationship, said Allen Blakemore, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor. "In this particular case, he didn't have anything to do with it."
By May, Trump had accepted the invitation to speak. UNT officials began lengthy negotiations to secure either the Dallas Cowboys splashy practice facility in Frisco or their main digs in Arlington, AT&T Stadium.
"The field and facility will truly be a destination and experience for our sponsors and guests," Broughton wrote in an email to Ryan. "For most, it will be the only time they are on the turf at AT&T to get their photo made on the Star at the 50 Yard Line!"
Ryan personally intervened to lower the cost to use the stadium, emails indicate. The university will pay $125,000 to hold the event there, according to a contract obtained by The News.
The university then approached GOP leaders. "I met with the Dallas County Republican Party Director of Communications yesterday morning regarding them becoming involved in this and helping to engage the Huffines Brothers in the series as well as others," Broughton wrote in an email to Ryan, referring to the group's chairman, Phillip Huffines, and his twin brother, state Sen. Don Huffines.
Sam Pohl, who was the spokesman of the Dallas County Republican Party at the time, referred questions about the matter to the local GOP's executive director, Ashley Dawn Moretti. She said that "here at the Dallas GOP we are not involved in the out-of-county event at UNT."
The next week, Broughton asked Trump's assistant about a speech topic.
"Obviously, we would want his speech to be about what he felt was important but it does not have to be political necessarily," Broughton wrote in July. "However, given the fact that his Father is the President of the United States, there is certainly always the possibility it cannot help but be political."
The following month, Broughton wrote to the Trump Organization that "Our goal is to keep the theme non-political in nature though we totally understand that political issues or ties may come up in his speech."
Texas law prohibits state universities from using a school program to achieve a "political purpose," though experts said that is not clearly defined.
"If he talks about why his dad should be president forever, it would run afoul" of the law, said Randall Buck Wood, an Austin attorney who specializes in government ethics. "If he wants to talk about why deregulation is a good thing, I don't think it does."
Trump recently told UNT that he will speak about "freedom of speech and issues of national significance."
The university "has every intention of abiding by state and federal laws," said Reese, its spokeswoman.
As university officials worked during the summer with the Trump on the contract for the speech, they appeared to anticipate resistance to his choice as a speaker.
"Is there a need or thought for a Cancellation Clause like if Trump is not someone we want to speak at our series?" Broughton asked a colleague via email in July. "Or do we just leave it as is and default on the contract with him keeping the $100,000."
Broughton referred requests for comment on his emails to Reese, the university spokeswoman, who also declined to comment.
When it was time for university officials to sell tickets, Broughton wrote: "Even though Mr. Trump may be controversial to some, many of our high capacity constituents align with him and his message. Do not let a few detractors or your own personal opinions get in the way."
In the first few hours after news of Trump's speech broke on a Wednesday afternoon in August, emails from students and alumni began pouring in to the university.
"We never have this many," one employee wrote to colleagues in the fundraising department.
By Friday morning, the count was up to 117. By UNT's account, most opposed Trump's speech; about 10 wanted tickets. Some said they would stop donating money to the school. An official response to address concerns was shared with campus leaders.
Eventually the university fundraising division created a spreadsheet to log the emails — noting whether the writer was a donor — and assigning someone to respond.
Many of those who emailed focused on President Trump's failure to condemn Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, just days earlier. Others focused on Donald Trump Jr.'s Russian meeting.
A handful of comments in the emails released to The News showed people who were happy about Trump's upcoming speech. A senior in the business school was excited, wanted to attend and was glad UNT was continuing to represent "all ideologies." An employee in the fundraising department said he had received all positive phone calls and texts.
According to his contract with UNT, Trump will attend a small dinner the night before his speech. The next morning, he will appear at a VIP breakfast and a reception that includes photo opportunities for those who buy a series sponsorship for at least $10,000. His lunchtime speech is followed by a question-and-answer period. His contract requires that the questions be provided to him ahead of time.
Melissa Francis, a FOX News host, will speak at the series' spring lecture. In the future, according to university emails, the series hopes to invite Chelsea Clinton to speak.
Staff writer Miles Moffeit contributed to this report.