Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he had given away all the money he had raised four months earlier for veterans -- and at the same time bitterly attacked the news media for pressing him to explain what he had done with the money. "Instead of being like, 'Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,' or 'Trump did a good job,' everyone's saying, 'Who got it, who got it, who got it?'"Trump said during a news conference here at Trump Tower. "And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job."
It no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time. In January, Donald Trump was in the middle of a spat with Fox News, so the Republican presidential hopeful boycotted a debate ahead of the Iowa caucuses, instead holding a fundraiser in the Hawkeye State for veterans. The GOP candidate boasted that he'd raised $6 million for vets, and he'd contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
The trouble, however, started two weeks ago, when the Washington Post started asking what happened to the money. The newspaper found that Trump did not raise $6 million as he'd claimed, and making matters worse, though his campaign said Trump had already made a $1 million contribution, that turned out not to be true, either.
Yesterday, the presumptive Republican nominee held a press conference to set the record straight, though as the Washington Post reported, it didn't go well.
Yes, it appears that in Trump's mind, journalists are supposed to thank Donald Trump when he thinks he's done something worthwhile.
But even putting that aside, whether the Republican presidential hopeful realizes it or not, yesterday's explanation for the controversy arguably made matters worse, not better.
The AP reported yesterday, for example, "Phone calls to all 41 of the groups by The Associated Press brought more than two-dozen responses Tuesday. About half reported checks from Trump within the past week, typically dated May 24, the day The Washington Post published a story questioning whether he had distributed all of the money."
In other words, four months after his big fundraiser, where Trump touted a tally that turned out to be untrue, Trump only started cutting checks to a variety of groups after the Washington Post published a story that made the candidate look awful.
At another point yesterday, Trump insisted, "I didn't want to have credit" for the charitable donations, except we know that's not true, either: he obviously did want credit, which is why he held a televised fundraiser in which he boasted about his self-proclaimed leadership on raising money for veterans. There's also the matter of Trump not actually deserving credit for the $1 million his campaign was caught fibbing about.
Adding insult to injury, Trump insisted yesterday, "When you send checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to people and to companies and to groups that you've never heard of, charitable organizations, you have to vet it." He even demanded tax materials from the organizations before they became eligible for the money.
Even if we put aside the irony of Trump demanding tax materials from groups while he insists on keeping his own tax returns hidden from the public, and even if we overlook the fact that his operation doesn't appear to have done an especially good job in vetting, there's also the inconvenient fact that, according to the Trump campaign, the groups were chosen in advance in January -- suggesting the organizations had already been vetted.
So where does that leave us? Trump said he'd raised $6 million for veterans, but that wasn't true. He later claimed he never used the $6 million figure, but that wasn't true. His campaign insisted Trump had contributed $1 million himself, but that wasn't true. Trump said he "didn't want to have credit" for the fundraising efforts, but that wasn't true. He said he and his team were vetting groups they'd never heard of four months after the fact, but that wasn't true.
And as of yesterday, all of this, the Republican candidate insisted, is the media's fault. Indeed, Trump thinks journalists should be "ashamed" of themselves for scrutinizing his claims that turned out to be wrong.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but in a normal year, in a normal party, with a normal candidate, this is the sort of controversy that could end a campaign. Legitimate presidential hopefuls can get away with some dissembling and the occasional whopper, but Trump was caught telling obvious falsehoods about support for veterans' charities.
If this happened to Hillary Clinton, is there any doubt it would be the #1 issue in the presidential race between now and Election Day? That every pundit in America would use this as Exhibit A in their takes on why Americans just can't trust the Democrat?