Hi Reddit good to be back. My name is David Fahrenthold, a Washington Post reporter covering President Trump’s businesses and potential conflicts of interest.

Just yesterday it was announced that Trump has agreed to shut down his charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, after a New York state lawsuit alleged “persistently illegal conduct,” including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign as well as willful self-dealing, “and much more.” This all came after we documented apparent lapses at the foundation, including Trump using the charity’s money to pay legal settlements for his private business, buying art for one of his clubs and make a prohibited political donation.

In 2017, I won the Pulitzer Prize for my coverage of President Trump’s giving to charity – or, in some cases, the lack thereof. I’ve been a Post reporter for 17 years now, and previously covered Congress, government waste, the environment and the D.C. Police.

AMA at 1 p.m. ET! Thanks in advance for all your questions.

Proof: https://twitter.com/Fahrenthold/status/1075089661251469312

Comments: 2899 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

shabby472589 karma

Ok. So we all saw the NYT report this last year that dealt with the history of the Trump family's finances. One of the things that really stood out was the fake company All County Building Supply & Maintenance that they set up to transfer money from Fred to the children, without paying the normal taxes. (For those unfamiliar, Fred Trump's company would do upgrades for a building of say $500,000 and then this second company would pay the $500,000 to the contractors, but bill Fred for $1M, the extra $500k would then be passed on to the company's employees, which were the Trump children, essentially transferring that money to them and avoiding gift or estate taxes on it.)

Trump himself has a company Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC that you have tried to report on, but found nothing. He claims that he owns the company, that it is worth nothing, but also that he owes it $50M dollars. The issue here is that if it is owed $50M, then it should be worth that much in theory, which is just weird on its own.

Is there any chance that a similar situation to All County Building Supply & Maintenance is going on here, where this company was funded by inflating costs somewhere else and then the money was given directly to the Trump Org. as a loan (with no real payback) to skirt taxes?

washingtonpost2628 karma

That NYT story was incredible -- they used internal documents from the Trump org to show how Trump's father had passed wealth to his son through some very questionable financial practices. One of them was that all County Building Supply company you mentioned -- it was, in essence, an unneccessary middleman between Trump Org and its vendors, which took a cut of all the payments that passed through. the payments went back to Donald Trump and his siblings, siphoning money out of Fred Trump's real-estate empire without appearing to be a gift.


I've wondered about whether a similar kind of operation might be going on now within Trump Org, but I've seen no evidence that there is.

Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC *is* a huge mystery to me. (It's a weird shell company that Trump says he owes more than $50M. But Trump also says he owns the shell company. So he owes more than $50M to...himself???) But it's a ghost, legally speaking, with almost no paper trail. So I have no idea what the heck it is, or why it is. (Yet)

shabby473626 karma

You are probably too busy to see this response, but one thing I noticed was that Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC was formed on the same day he announced he was going to renovate his Atlantic City casinos (December 15, 2005: https://nypost.com/2005/12/15/the-donald-gets-back-his-mojo/


SEC filings from the time show that the amount was going to be $110M invested into the upgrades.

(Edited here to add link to SEC filing: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/943320/000119312506053345/d10k.htm )

Now, from what it seems, the way that All County worked, was basically they charged double for the repairs and pocketed a 100% difference. If Chicago LLC had ~$50M to "lend" back to Trump, and it was formed right when his casinos were pumping $110M into renovations, is it possible that in reality, only $50M worth of work was actually done, and the extra $50M was funneled to this weird business that only exists on paper? Who knows where that extra cash could have come from.

washingtonpost2811 karma

I had never noticed that these were on the same day!

wheatthin92914 karma

What is so despicable to me about all of this is as you said in one answer: "Nationwide, the investigative authority is the IRS, which has been cut back deeply in recent years". If the IRS is the authority that can stop this kind of criminal activity, which may also exist at other charities, what has to be done to get the funds back to the IRS? My assumption is that those with the money who can shape government policies are the ones who want the IRS to have less funds so they can get away with this kind of stuff. It seems like a vicious circle--of course, I could be wrong in that. How can we fix this problem?

washingtonpost1008 karma

ProPublica did a great story just a few days ago on this very thing, explaining why (and how) the IRS has been gutted. https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-irs-was-guttedhttps://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-irs-was-gutted

ComplexFUBAR768 karma

Hi David, appreciate your work. -----What is the most shocking thing you've discovered in your investigation? -----Do you think Special Counsel or NY AG Barbra Underwood and/or Letitia James will have any incentive to go easy on Ivanka, Eric & Jr? -----What are your thoughts on Trump Victory (Trump re-election campaign and RNC merger)? -----Did you call his hotline to say "thank you" for anything? -----First heard you on Trump Inc; have been following your work ever since. How pumped were you yesterday? Going to sound strange, but as an admirer of your work, I was feeling pretty psyched for you. (I think that's the mom in me.) -----Not a question but, I met Donald Trump & Marla Maples a LONG time ago in my early teen years (Paula Abdul concert). He stole the very nice (pricey) pen that we lent him to sign his autograph. No crowd, just me and four friends. He signed, looked at the pen, cocked his head a little bit and then put it in his inner suit jacket pocket. I tried to get it back but he walked off real fast and the ushers held us back. -----Thank you for doing this AMA. #HoustonStrong

washingtonpost443 karma

That's an amazing story. Trump was at a Paula Abdul concert????

Fuck_Fascists453 karma

Do you think the Trump foundation would’ve gotten away with it if Trump didn’t become President?

Shouldn’t we be concerned that the charity was able to get away with it for so many years, and others could easily be doing the same?

washingtonpost1157 karma

I hadn't covered nonprofits before I started covering Trump's nonprofit, so I was really surprised at how much the system relies on self-reporting. Many nonprofits are terrified of the IRS, but in fact the IRS has so little resources that it misses a lot unless a charity fesses up and reveals their own wrongdoing.

BTW, I have to recommend nonprofit reporting as a beat for journalists. They produce a lot of paper trail, and there's a built-in element of moral drama to the stories, since anybody you're writing about has held themselves out as a do-gooder. I *always* read those stories about preachers who say God wants them to have a Lamborghini or a fourth private jet.

droosien326 karma

Can you tell us anything about your sourcing on the Access Hollywood tape? I suspect that is a story in and of itself.

washingtonpost671 karma



OrientalTeaBag262 karma

Hi David, thanks so much for your reporting. A couple questiosns:

  1. The NY AG's lawsuit seeks $2.8 million in restitution (beyond the $1.75 million in the coffers of the Trump Foundation which is to be donated to AG-approved charities). Who would pay that extra money? Donald Trump himself?
  2. Missouri's now ex-governor, Eric Greitens, was accused of illegally using his charity's donor list to solicit campaign donations from. Is charity fraud common? Is there a governmental investigative body that specifically looks into it, or are these cases exclusively investigated/pursued by individual prosecutors?

washingtonpost455 karma

On #1, the NY AG wants Trump to pay that money personally. She believes that Trump used $2.8M of the foundation's money to help himself -- specifically, by paying for giveaways during the 2016 campaign at the behest of Trump's campaign managers. So she think Trump should put that $ back into the foundation (which, I believe, would then give it away to other charities).

On #2, charity fraud *is* common, at charities big and small. Nationwide, the investigative authority is the IRS, which has been cut back deeply in recent years, and often relies on a self-reporting system to identify charities with problems. Meaning: they want the troubled charities to out themselves. Trump's case shows the flaws in that plan. For years, he self-reported that everything was fine, even when his charity was breaking the rules. Nobody knew until he ran for POTUS.

notyourbitch_bitch_189 karma

First, thank you for your work. Journalists, like teachers and activists, do the hard work for the betterment of others.

Secondly, where there pieces of this mess that were especially surprising to you? That made you sit back in your chair, put your hands and your forehead and just say "...what?"

ButterKnifeScar186 karma

Was it the Trump election that jumpstart your investigation, is candidacy or did you start it before?

as Trump has very vocative suporters, have you been harassed online due to your investigations?

washingtonpost465 karma

It was the election. I found the Trump Foundation story by accident, basically, after the Post sent me to Iowa to write a story about Trump's campaigning on caucus day in February 2016. I saw him give away foundation funds onstage in Waterloo, Iowa, during a rally. That's odd, I thought, since campaigns are supposed to stay out of politics. That was the start! I liked writing about the foundation, as opposed to pure politics, because it was more concrete. There were dollars and cents, Tim Tebow helmets, etc.

And, as far as harassment...I don't get very much, actually. Some angry emailers, but that comes with any job (one of the angriest emails i ever got was back when I was reporting on the environment, and one reader thought that -- by following the advice in one of my stories -- she had killed her backyard squirrels).

Bless_all_the_knees100 karma

Tim Tebow helmets?

washingtonpost332 karma

Yes! One of my favorite Trump Foundation stories: Trump bought a Tim Tebow-signed Broncos helmet at a charity auction in 2012, buying it at the absolute peak of the market. Literally, the peak: at the moment Trump was bidding on it, Tebow's best football year was coming to a crashing end as the Patriots massacred the Broncos in the playoffs. Trump's own foundation says the helmet is worth less than $500. Now, sadly, he has to sell it.


Duke_Paul76 karma

How much of the lack of harassment do you think is because people who would harass you don't read the Washington Post and therefore aren't familiar with your work?

washingtonpost255 karma

It may be because my last name is really hard to spell...

Seriously, I've noticed that I get far, far less abuse online when I write about Trump than I did for writing about Bernie Sanders, way back in the early days of the 2016 campaign. In fact, I got far more online bile *last week* for a single tweet -- saying that I think it's wrong for people to "ghost" on their jobs -- than I do in a month for writing about Trump. Twitter actually made a "Moment" of people roasting me for being insensitive. https://twitter.com/Fahrenthold/status/1073318873766739968

Duke_Paul56 karma

I heard about that story on Marketplace! I'm floored that that ever happens, let alone that it's a trend. Even if you can just walk off and get another job, it seems like common courtesy to at least tell people. Plus, you have to sort out your benefits and everything!

washingtonpost163 karma

Also, if you've ever watched Dateline NBC, you know that's how every murder mystery starts: somebody stops showing up for work, and doesn't answer their phone. In 10 years, people will just assume they've been "ghosted" and nobody will go check.

washingtonpost121 karma

Let's do this!

Volcarocka112 karma

Hi, David! I’m a big fan, I actually took a public speaking class a few semesters ago and gave a practice speech in that class about you and your WaPo career. My question is - what’s been the best part of working for the Washington Post (my favorite news outlet) that you couldn’t get at other places?

Thanks so much for everything you do!

washingtonpost207 karma

That is awesome!! I'm very honored.

The best part about working at WaPo? Take this answer with a grain of salt, since I've only ever worked at 2 other papers, the Seattle Times and the Times-Picayune, and that was 18 yrs ago...but...the best thing is the collegiality. This is a newsroom where people genuinely like each other, and try to work together. That can be rare, in any workplace. Awww...

hey_sergio88 karma

Remember that episode of the Newsroom when everyone was at a party at Will's luxury apartment and then some news broke (Osama killed) and everyone left the party and hauled ass to work?

I don't know of many workplaces where people would voluntarily leave a party in the middle of the night and go to the office.

Is that real life, for you?

washingtonpost215 karma

That is 100 percent the way it would work. We had our office party last week, and the team that covers the Russia investigation spent the party in a corner, silently reading a minor legal filing on their phones.

washingtonpost93 karma

That's it, everyone! Thanks for your questions. And please keep reading at washingtonpost.com.

blahblahblahpotato88 karma

My husband is a huge fan but is traveling right now and asked me to ask for him..."about financial ties and sweetheart deals attributable to foundation donations or memberships at Mar-A-Lago and other trump-owned clubs in exchange for ambassadorships, positions in the administration?"

washingtonpost198 karma

We don't know of any instance where there's been a confirmed quid-pro-quo, i.e., somebody gets a membership at Trump's club, and in return gets an ambassadorship, etc.

There have been a few members of Trump's clubs who have been appointed as ambassadors. The latest, I think, is Lana Marks -- a Mar-a-Lago member recently appointed as ambassador to South Africa. https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20181019/exclusive-mar-a-lago-member-lana-marks-headed-to-south-africa-post

And the biggest donor to the Trump Foundation in the last decade was not Trump, it was pro-wrestling moguls Vince and LInda McMahon. They gave $5M combined in 2007-2009, and have never said why. Linda McMahon, of course, is now Trump's Small Business Administration chief.

Nebula_Forte72 karma

What's your next project?

washingtonpost254 karma

I'm now writing about the Trump Organization -- the president's business -- and any conflicts of interest it might create. This year, we've done a couple of stories that I'm hoping to dig into more in 2019:

--Trump found more than $400M in cash to buy real estate over the last decade, abruptly breaking with real-estate practices (and with his own history) by declining to take out mortgage loans. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-the-king-of-debt-trump-borrowed-to-build-his-empire-then-he-began-spending-hundreds-of-millions-in-cash/2018/05/05/28fe54b4-44c4-11e8-8569-26fda6b404c7_story.html?utm_term=.1adf27893072

--Saudi customers have boosted at least three of Trump's hotels since he took office. In NYC, a single group of big-spending Saudis paid enough money in March that their single visit boosted the Trump Hotel into the black for the quarter. And in late 2016, we found, Saudi lobbyists paid for more than 500 rooms at Trump's hotel in the first four months after he was elected. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/saudi-funded-lobbyist-paid-for-500-rooms-at-trumps-hotel-after-2016-election/2018/12/05/29603a64-f417-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html

CheapestOfSkates69 karma

Why do you think no criminal charges have been laid against anyone associated with them? The article title I saw yesterday said the shutdown was occurring because of "shocking illegality".

washingtonpost179 karma

The NY AG has said that -- under NY law -- she doesn't have the authority to file criminal charges in a charity case like this one. She filed a civil suit.

She also referred the case to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, which *could* file criminal charges, if they felt it was warranted. Those agencies have not commented. And NY's state tax agency -- the edgily named DTF-- has also said it was investigating the Trump Foundation, and that it could later file criminal charges.

Lamescrnm50 karma

With the foundation shuttering, will there still be legal liability and/or consequence for Trump, family, and board members?

washingtonpost100 karma

There could be. The NY AG's lawsuit against the Trump Fdn is still going on. The AG still wants Trump to pay $2.8M+ in restitution/fines and still wants to ban Trump and his kids from leading any other charity in NY. There could be months more legal fighting over that.

Se7en_speed29 karma

Have you looked into Trump's endorsement of pyramid schemes like ACN?

washingtonpost46 karma

Not very much, so far. We've reported on a lawsuit that was filed in October, suing Trump for promoting what turned out to be a terrible investment. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-defrauded-investors-in-marketing-scheme-lawsuit-says/2018/10/29/e9e1191c-db98-11e8-b732-3c72cbf131f2_story.html?utm_term=.00686f09c04e

mildasfuck12 karma

Hi David! What did you eat for breakfast?

washingtonpost68 karma

Split pea soup. Seriously. I made some overnight in the slow cooker, and then ate it for breakfast in a (failed) effort to convince my children that this green goo I'd made was edible.

brockdustin11 karma

How is the Trump foundation any different then the Clinton foundation?

washingtonpost173 karma

They were very different.

The Trump Fdn is much smaller: it had no employees, and only had about $3.3M in the bank at its peak. In practical terms, it was a bank account, which Trump used to give money to charities he liked. Its problem, legally speaking, was that Trump didn't seem to understand a bedrock rule of charity, which is: once you give your money to a charity, it's not your money anymore. Not even if the charity has your name on it. You're supposed to use that money to serve the charity's independent ends, not your own. But Trump seemed to ignore that rule, and to use the Trump Foundation's money to pay off his business's legal settlements, buy artwork of himself, etc. He treated the foundation like it was still his money.

The Clinton Foundation, by contrast, was a much larger charity, with its own employees and a budget in the hundreds of millions. There's been a lot of great reporting done about its donors, which included a lot of powerful people who might want a favor from a Secretary of State or future president. If you want to read a breakdown of Trump Fdn vs. Clinton Foundation, check out this one from WaPo's fact-checker. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/06/27/foundation-face-off-the-trump-foundation-versus-the-clinton-foundation/?utm_term=.44a5b9bb2211

droosien7 karma

Are you gonna bid on the portraits?

washingtonpost16 karma

I'd love to. Not sure what the upper limit on the Post's reimbursement policy is, but I'm researching it...

The bigger problem would be transporting them! One is 4 feet tall. The other is 6 feet.