On Fox News Channel on Tuesday night, host Sean Hannity interviewed Donald Trump. Hannity asked Trump about a bitter news conference that the presumptive Republican nominee had given earlier in the day, when Trump announced donations to veterans groups, using money he had raised four months earlier in Iowa. Trump had also blasted the news media for pressing him to explain what he'd done with the money.
On air, Hannity was sympathetic. He told Trump that he'd be voting for him in November. And Hannity seemed to echo Trump's criticism of the news media's questions.
"Do they think you're going to steal it? You were going through a process, though, of vetting these groups, which, by the way, is the responsible thing to do, right?" Hannity said.
What Hannity didn't say on air was that he had a years-long relationship with one of the groups Trump had just chosen for a donation.
The charity, Freedom Alliance, received a $75,000 gift. That money had originally come from other big donors, who had entrusted it to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, on the promise that Trump would pass it along to individual veterans groups.
On Wednesday, there were conflicting accounts of Hannity's current connection to the group.
In a statement, a Fox News spokeswoman said Hannity no longer works with Freedom Alliance.
"Sean Hannity has generously donated to, and proudly worked in the past with the Freedom Alliance organization, but has not worked with them for a number of years, including the current election cycle,” a Fox News spokeswoman wrote.
But the president of Freedom Alliance told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that Hannity still remained informally connected to the group, telling others about its work. Hannity is not listed as an officer or employee of the group in its tax filings.
"Sean’s a great friend. He’s done a lot to help us," Tom Kilgannon, Freedom Alliance's president, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "He continues to talk to people about us, and help us, and send support our way. He’s a great friend." He said Hannity receives no payments or other benefits from the group.
Kilgannon was asked: Was it Hannity who introduced the charity to Trump this year?
"I’m not sure who did. But whoever did, I’m grateful for them mentioning us," Kilgannon said.
The Trump campaign has not yet responded to queries about whether Hannity was the one who recommended the group for a donation.
Freedom Alliance provides college scholarships to the children of fallen or disabled U.S. military personnel. It also provides care packages to troops overseas and presents for military families at Christmas. It was founded by former Marine officer Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s who has become a conservative activist and commentator.
Hannity became associated with Freedom Alliance more than a decade ago, when he began organizing "Freedom Concerts" to benefit the group. The concerts stopped around 2010. In that year, both liberal and conservative activists charged that the group spent too much of its money on overhead costs and too little on its charitable work. They filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, but the FTC says it took no public action.
Freedom Alliance, based in Northern Virginia, receives only middling ratings from charity watchdog groups. Charity Navigator gives it two stars out of four. Charity Watch gives it a grade of "D." Both watchdogs took issue with the amount of money that the group spends on its actual charitable work, as opposed to fundraising, salaries and overhead. Charity Watch also noted that the group was holding a relatively large amount of assets in reserve.
"They’re not a high-flying charity," said Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch. "You give to charity because there’s a need, right? Not because they’re wealthy already. So why is he giving to groups that already have so much money?"
Kilgannon, the president of the charity, disputed those findings, and said the group dedicates more than 80 percent of its money toward its charitable mission. He said Trump's $75,000 would be spent on programs that included hunting and fishing trips for veterans, all-terrain wheelchairs, and marriage retreats for struggling military couples.
On Tuesday, The Post reported that another charity chosen by Trump — the Foundation for American Veterans —had an "F" rating from Charity Watch and a warning from the Better Business Bureau over complaints about its fundraising tactics. A spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to questions about how that group got through Trump's vetting process.