— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) December 29, 2016
A well-deserved victory lap, with a promise for the future:
“Arnold and Tim, if you’d come up, we’re going to give you a nice, beautiful check,” Donald Trump said. He held up an oversize check, the kind they give to people who win golf tournaments. It was for $100,000. In the top-left corner the check said: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation.”
Along the bottom, it had the slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again.”…
That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn’t understand — and I don’t think Trump understood, either — where that one check, and that one question, would lead…
The idea for this story had come from our executive editor, Marty Baron. One night, as we both waited for an elevator, Marty offered a suggestion.
Why don’t you go beyond Trump’s promises to give to veterans, he said, and look at Trump’s giving to charity, period?
The logic was that Trump had just tried to wiggle out of a charitable promise he’d made on national TV. What, Marty wondered, had he been doing before the campaign, when nobody was looking?
Working with one of The Post’s ace researchers, Alice Crites, I went digging for records that would reveal Trump’s charitable giving, going back to his early days as a Manhattan developer in the 1980s. We looked at old news clippings, detailing Trump’s public statements. And we looked at tax filings from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which had been dug out of storage by New York state.
Those two sources told two very different stories…
I kept looking, posting details of my search to Twitter. Soon I had attracted a virtual army, ready to join the scavenger hunt. I had begun the year with 4,700 Twitter followers. By September I had more than 60,000 and climbing fast. I began hearing from celebrities and even a few personal heroes, offering their assistance out of the blue. The barbecue columnist for Texas Monthly — an idol to me, as a journalist and a native Texan — was watching videos of other people’s parties taken at a Trump golf resort. He thought he’d spotted the painting in the background (he hadn’t). Kathy Griffin, the actress, called me with her memories about visiting the set of Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, was sending me links on Twitter, new leads on Trump promises…
The point of my stories was not to defeat Trump. The point was to tell readers the facts about this man running for president. How reliable was he at keeping promises? How much moral responsibility did he feel to help those less fortunate than he?
By the end of the election, I felt I’d done my job. My last big story about Trump started with an amazing anecdote, which came from a tip from a reader. In 1996, Trump had crashed a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a charity opening a nursery school for children with AIDS. Trump, who had never donated to the charity, stole a seat onstage that had been saved for a big contributor.
He sat there through the whole ceremony, singing along with the choir of children as cameras snapped, and then left without giving a dime…
A few days [after the election], I was interviewed by another German reporter. He asked if these past nine months, the greatest adventure in my life as a journalist, had been for naught.
“Do you feel like your work perhaps did not matter at all?” he said.
I didn’t feel like that.
It did matter. But, in an election as long and wild as this, a lot of other stories and other people mattered, too. I did my job. The voters did theirs. Now my job goes on. I’ll seek to cover Trump the president with the same vigor as I scrutinized Trump the candidate.
And now I know how to do it.