Reliable sources: How the NYT discovered new information about Trump’s wealth

Susanne Craig says this investigation was without a doubt the hardest story she has ever done.

“Imagine,” he says, “someone throwing a million white puzzle pieces into Times Square and being asked to put them back together.”

Those pieces of the puzzle were about the Trump family business. Craig, David Barstow and Russ Buettner compiled it for a unique story, published by the NYT on Tuesday evening. It will fill eight special pages of the print edition on Wednesday. Here is the cover:
If you haven’t read it yet, click here. The Times also (helpfully!) published a list of 11 takeaways from the study. And here’s the CNN story.

Now the story behind the story…

NYT assistant managing editor Sam Dolnick called it “an investigative reporter’s misfortune”: Two years ago, on October 1, 2016, “the same NYT team published a story on Trump taxes after an anonymous source sent Susanne Craig tax records dating back to 1995,” he wrote. .

Trump, of course, was elected without ever disclosing his taxes.

Flash forward five months. In March 2017, David Cay Johnston obtained a copy of Trump’s 2005 returns. (Remember when he broke the story on Rachel Maddow’s show?) “That sparked our journey,” Craig told me. So it’s fair to say that it was an 18-month investigation…


The trio obtained confidential tax returns. Financial records. depositions And so on. How? I’ll leave that up to you to speculate.

“We had thousands of documents. Hundreds of tax returns,” Craig told me. “Putting it all together, understanding what they did, was just hard. We triangulated documents. We compared tax returns with financial statements and bank statements. And then we talked to sources about it. Today we put it in a story, all explained. But it started with the pile of information sitting in the corner of the room.

A room with a closed door

Buettner, Barstow and Craig worked in a small room on the fourth floor of NYT headquarters. Enjoy one of the unique: a bottle of Jameson on the shelf.

Most NYT reporters work from open cubicles. But the trio needed privacy. So they kept the room locked, and they were the only ones with the keys…

A multimedia spread

I mentioned the “to-go” list earlier. The NYT also had a video ready for you to watch on Tuesday. And the same documentary crew that made “The Fourth Estate” for Showtime was also involved in this investigation. Showtime will air a “documentary short” titled “Family Business: Trump and Taxes” this Sunday at 8:30 PM ET. Directed by Jenny Carchman, Produced by Liz Garbus and Justin Wilkes… And still in the works… It’s about 30 minutes long on Sunday…

Threat to Trumpworld: Harder calls the story “highly defamatory.”

When the story was released on Tuesday, many journalists commented — with surprise and envy — on the super-confident tone of the story. The NYT reached what NPR’s David Folkenfli calls “earned conclusions.” These are not opinions; they are the results of months and months of obsessive work. For example, the story’s headline: Trump “participated in questionable tax schemes throughout the 1990s” that included “cases of fraud.” That is quite a conclusion.

One of Trump’s pitbull lawyers, Charles Harder, sent a statement to the NYT on Monday after the newspaper sent “a detailed description of its findings.”

Harder said “The New York Times’ allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false, and highly defamatory. No one was involved in fraud or tax evasion. The facts upon which The Times bases its false allegations are grossly incorrect.”

A statement from Sanders…or Trump?

Harder’s statement was followed by a statement from Sarah Sanders. WH reporters noted that it sounded like it was coming straight from Trump’s mouth.

“But the statement doesn’t dispute any of the facts in the story,” the NYT’s Peter Baker said in a tweet. “Rather, it attacks the paper and repeats the lie that the NYT apologized for its 2016 coverage, which it did not.”

Fox tour

Here’s the thing about an 18-month investigation like this: There’s no way other news outlets can “match” the story in days…or more realistically weeks or months. So the other outlets have to report the NYT attribution. I thought it was funny when Fox’s Kevin Corke told the audience during the 4:00 p.m. show, “We’re going to keep digging.” How? Well, he said he contacted WH officials. I can’t think of a worse way to report Trump’s taxes.

Anchor Neil Cavuto, on the other hand, downplayed the story: “I don’t know it’s there.” This is one of those times when Fox’s coverage does viewers a disservice…

We don’t know that much yet

This story is about the Trump family, with decades of documents. But what about Trump’s latest tax returns? His latest accounting practice? “The records reviewed by the Times did not include Trump’s personal tax returns or his recent business dealings,” the CNN story noted.

Craig tweeted: “Really underscores the need for presidents — especially Donald Trump — to release their tax returns.”

Baker tweeted a similar point: “Trump can help clear up anything misleading by releasing his tax returns, as every other president has done for decades.”

MORE TO COME? Craig told me, “We want to go much deeper…”.

TUNE IN: Craig is booked on “GMA” and Barstow is booked on “New Day” Wednesday morning…

Other news related to the Times of the day…

Emails from Oliver Darcy: Earlier Tuesday, before the Trump wealth story came out, the NYT tried to douse the fire for its Monday night story about Brett Kavanaugh and a 1985 bar fight. The Times said it made a mistake by allowing NYT Mag writer Emily Bazelon, who had tweeted negatively about Kavanaugh, to participate in the story.

Read more in Tuesday’s Reliable Sources newsletter… And subscribe here to get the next editions delivered to your inbox…
A spokesman defended the story — “accurate, factual and we stand behind it completely” — but said “the editors should have used a newsroom reporter” in New Haven, CT to obtain the documents. Bazelon was apparently tapped because he is based in New Haven… Read…