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How to get Donald Trump to call you a ‘sleaze’ on national television

Donald Trump speaks in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. (Jason Szenes/European Pressphoto Agency)

ABC News reporter Tom Llamas grabbed one of many headlines to come out of Donald Trump’s news conference Tuesday morning about his campaign to round up nearly $6 million in donations to veterans groups. “Donald Trump Calls ABC Reporter Tom Llamas ‘A Sleaze,’ ” wrote the Washington Free Beacon. “Trump Interrupts Press Conference to Call ABC Reporter ‘Sleaze,’ ” noted Mediaite.

Rule of thumb — when Trump attacks reporters, consider it a sign that they’re doing their job. In the case of Llamas at Tuesday morning’s news conference, he pressed Trump on the enduring questions regarding his boast that a January fundraising event secured $6 million in donations to veterans’ groups. The event took place in Iowa on the same night that Trump absented himself from a Fox News debate. Reporting by The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold raised questions about the $6 million figure and may well have triggered Trump’s own, long-promised $1 million contribution.

And so Llamas put this question to Trump on Tuesday:

Indeed, this is the insult that Trump visited upon Llamas: “You’re a sleaze because you know the facts, and you know the facts well,” said Trump, a man who mangles the facts in just about every public appearance.

Though Trump is famous for his snap judgments, this particular blast has some history beyond the controversy over Trump’s veterans donations. In  August, for instance, Trump ripped Llamas on Twitter — because where else! — regarding a story on ABC News’s “World News Tonight”:

What was Trump’s issue with Llamas’s report? CNN tried to ascertain just that, and the campaign didn’t respond. It’s apparent, though, that the campaign was upset over Llamas’s reporting that Trump was intent upon deporting all undocumented immigrants, whereas Trump in his tweet referenced “gang members & criminals.” Also in August, Llamas confronted Trump in a news conference over his use of the term “anchor babies,” which the reporter called “offensive.” Trump retorted, “You mean it’s not politically correct and yet everybody uses it?”

Then, in October, Trump gave Llamas a “love tap” on the cheek. Llamas had noted that the candidate seemed “fired up” at an event in New Hampshire. Trump responded, “I was fired up, you better believe it. When I see what’s happening to this country I’m fired up. I hope you see the new polls that are coming out.” (Bolding inserted to highlight the moment at which Trump tapped Llamas.)

The Trump campaign declined to speak on record about just what qualified Llamas as a “sleaze.” ABC News, for its part, says through a spokesman, “Tom is one of the best journalists in the country. He is also one of the most respectful and respected.” The Erik Wemple Blog interprets that statement as a denial of the “sleaze” allegation. The network says Llamas is unavailable to chat about his interactions with Trump.

Following Trump’s bonkers news conference, pundits wondered about the angry tone and insults against journalists, which sounded more barbed than on previous occasions. One possible explanation emerges from The Post’s own reporting:

The donations Trump announced on Tuesday were related to a Jan. 28 fundraiser for veterans that he held in Des Moines, on a night when Trump skipped a GOP debate due to a feud with its host, Fox News. That night, Trump said he’d raised $6 million. Most of it came from other donors, but Trump said he would give $1 million of his own.
After that, however, Trump became reluctant to release details about what had become of the money. At times, too, his staff gave out false information: More than a week ago, Trump’s campaign manager said that Trump had already given out his $1 million in personal gifts.
As it turned out, he had not. Trump made his $1 million donation the evening of May 23, after a day of inquiries on Twitter — Trump’s preferred social-media platform — by The Washington Post.

Here’s one instance where the media appears to have forced Trump to pay up.