On Tuesday morning, The Washington Post published a story headlined: "Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems." Written by David Fahrenthold, who has reported extensively about the Trump Foundation, the piece details how Trump directed more than $250,000 of the charity's money to help pay fees related to his businesses. Those payments could qualify as "self-dealing" and violate laws governing how the leaders of nonprofit organizations can use the money they receive in donations.
On Tuesday night, Trump communications director Jason Miller issued a statement disputing Fahrenthold's reporting. Sort of. Actually, not really. Here's Miller's full statement:
In typical Washington Post fashion, they’ve gotten their facts wrong. It is the Clinton Foundation that is set up to make sure the Clintons personally enrich themselves by selling access and trading political favors. The Trump Foundation has no paid board, no management fees, no rent or overhead, and no family members on its payroll.
There was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments. All contributions are reported to the IRS, and all Foundation donations are publicly disclosed. Mr. Trump is generous both with his money and with his time. He has provided millions of dollars to fund his Foundation and a multitude of other charitable causes.
The Post’s reporting is peppered with inaccuracies and omissions from a biased reporter who is clearly intent on distracting attention away from the corrupt Clinton Foundation, a vehicle for the Clintons to peddle influence at the expense of the American people. Mr. Trump personally and the Trump Foundation, however, are staying focused on their charitable giving to veterans, the police, children and other deserving recipients.”
Before I go through the various ways in which this statement elides and misleads, let me make the most obvious point ever: I work for The Washington Post. I have for the past decade. I know David Fahrenthold and the editors who have worked on his stories. So, that's that.
But, even if I didn't work at The Post and I hated Dave, Miller's response to this latest story about Trump's use of the foundation wouldn't pass the smell test.
Miller starts off by dumping on The Post's journalism with zero evidence to back up his claim that we got our "facts wrong." When? Where? Who? He quickly segues into a bit of political sleight of hand by insisting that the real story of this campaign is the Clinton Foundation and that the media is ignoring it. But the media isn't ignoring it. Not even close! A quick Google search of "Washington Post Clinton Foundation" produces a bevy of results, including an op-ed from The Post's editorial board on Aug. 14 headlined: "A porous ethical wall between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department." It reads, in part:
Should Ms. Clinton win in November, she will bring to the Oval Office a web of connections and potential conflicts of interest, developed over decades in private, public and, in the case of her family’s philanthropic work, quasi-public activities. As secretary, she pledged to keep her official world and her family’s foundation separate, and she failed to keep them separate enough. Such sloppiness would not be acceptable in the White House.
That's not exactly taking it easy on Clinton and her family foundation.
In the second paragraph of his statement, Miller asserts that "there was not, and could not be, any intent or motive for the Trump Foundation to make improper payments." Okay. But that's not what The Post's article alleges. Fahrenthold knows better than to suggest intent or motive; he is simply noting that Trump diverted $258,000 -- money that wasn't his -- given to the foundation to pay for things tied to Trump's businesses. Those are facts. And they simply are not in dispute, not even by Miller. (More on that below.)
As for Miller's claim that Trump has "provided millions of dollars to fund his Foundation and a multitude of other charitable causes," it's important to remember that Fahrenthold has been asking the Trump campaign and the foundation to document some -- any! -- of those personal donations for months now. They have refused, forcing him to call or email each charity one by one to try to track the donations. If Trump is as generous with his own money as Miller says he is, it would be the easiest thing in the world to release a list of the various charities Trump has given to and the dollar amounts associated with those donations. Right? (Note: Last year, Trump released a list of $102 million in charitable donations. But the campaign later acknowledged that not a single dollar of that money came from Trump's own pocket.)
Then we get to Miller's final paragraph. "The Post’s reporting is peppered with inaccuracies and omissions from a biased reporter who is clearly intent on distracting attention away from the corrupt Clinton Foundation," he writes. The problem? Miller goes on to list a total of zero inaccuracies or omissions in either Fahrenthold's latest report or any of his work on the Trump Foundation. If Fahrenthold's work is rife with these errors, why not note one or two just to bolster your point? I think I know the answer. You probably do, too.
And then there is the name-calling -- the assertion that Fahrenthold is a "biased reporter" who is intentionally misleading the public to distract from the problems with the Clinton Foundation. "Bias" is a nasty word tossed around all too often these days about reporters, almost always with too little and, by that I mean no, proof of the claim. A reporter isn't biased because you don't like the facts he or she has uncovered or because those facts don't comport with your broader vision of this race.
The attempt to disqualify reporters based on wholly unverified claims of "bias" is corrosive to our democracy. I get that attacking reporters has become a sound strategy for both parties. But they do so at the expense of one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy.
Miller's statement is far from the only attempt in this campaign to discredit a reporter with a baseless set of charges. And it certainly won't be the last. But Fahrenthold deserves better for his dogged reporting aimed at informing voters about their choice in the coming election.