When Democrats make the case that Donald Trump has a controversial background when it comes to veterans' issues, it's not just wishful thinking. The presumptive Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan
for veterans' care. His associations
with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.
And it certainly didn't help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he "felt
" like he'd served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him "more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military."
Making matters much worse are new questions about Trump and veterans-related fundraising.
In January, the New York Republican skipped a debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans. Trump repeatedly boasted at the time that, thanks to his bold leadership, he's raised $6 million for vets. Trump added that he'd contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the fundraiser actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced. Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump's own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing. [...] Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.
The number of questions, which the campaign does not want to answer, represents a real problem. Exactly how much did Trump raise for veterans? His campaign doesn't know. How much of it has been allocated? His campaign doesn't know that, either. Who were the beneficiaries of Trump's $1 million contribution? The campaign doesn't want to talk about it.
I'm trying to imagine how the political world would react if Hillary Clinton and her team tried this.
In recent weeks, Trump and his campaign repeatedly declined to give new details about how much they have given away. "Why should I give you records?" Trump said in an interview with The Post this month. "I don't have to give you records." Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Trump's refusal to divulge how much of the money he had distributed raised questions about whether the candidate intended the fundraiser primarily as a public-relations effort for himself. "That's just shady. Right? No matter how you cut it, that's just shady," Rieckhoff said. "If he was going to make it right, a couple of weeks before Memorial Day would be a good time to do it. It behooves him, not just politically but ethically, to come forward and account for this money."
Just so we're clear, there's ample evidence that Trump did raise millions for veterans and some organizations benefited from the donations.
There is, however, additional evidence that Trump's specific claims about the amount of money raised weren't true, and for whatever reason, the Republican candidate and his team have been reluctant to account for the money in detail. Indeed, when asked for details about how Trump's $1 million was allocated, the GOP candidate's campaign manager responded, "He's not going to share that information."
: To put this in a slightly larger context, in April, the Washington Post reported
on Trump's frequent boasts that he's given "more than $102 million to charity in the past five years." The newspaper found, however, "Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump's own money."
Update: Several readers reminded me that Trump's troubles with veterans also extend to his condemnation of John McCain and servicemembers who "get captured." It's an important point.