As Senate Republicans struggle to nail down the votes they need among their own ranks to pass a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, many inside and outside the party are once again consider what it means to be loyal in the era of President Donald Trump. The conundrum has been around since the campaign, when revelations about Trump’s actions and behavior kept many GOP members from embracing him fully.
Washington Post Reporter David Fahrenthold is a Houston native who earned a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on then-candidate Trump’s claims about charitable giving. Fahrenthold also broke the story of the “Access Hollywood” tape, days before the election. He spoke with Host David Brown at the Texas Tribune Festival.
On how he began looking into Trump’s history of charitable giving:
It sort of started by accident because they lied to me. I was doing a story about a specific promise Trump had made to give to charity… He had skipped the Fox News debate and held this sort of telethon. He said he raised $6 million for veterans, including $1 million of his own money. And I just wanted to know where that money went.
On crowdsourcing Trump’s claim that he donated $1 million to veterans’ groups:
I spent a day on Twitter. There was nothing really, the traditional tools of journalism, making phone calls, knocking on doors, could do in that situation. I don’t know who to call. There’s a zillion veterans’ charities… I couldn’t’ find anyone, and that was because Trump hadn’t actually given the money away. Only after I made this public search for this gift – then, that night, he made the donation.
On trying to find out what Trump had given to charity in the past:
I called 450 [charities.] Trump had, over the course of his life, made a lot of promises to charity. Part of his public image was that he was sort of like a Bruce Wayne figure. He was a rich guy, and a playboy, but also generous, and felt some obligation to his fellow man. Between 2009 and 2015, I found one gift, which [was[ for less than $10,000.
On determining the authenticity of the “Access Hollywood” tape:
The [Washington Post] lawyers and the editors looked at it, and they said, ‘we believe this is Donald Trump speaking and we think it’s newsworthy.’ You could make an argument that Trump might have had an expectation of privacy at that moment, but he was wearing a microphone. We were prepared to run the story without Trump’s comment.
On the impact of the tape’s release on the election:
I think it did have an impact on the election… To me, the most concretely measurable response to it was other elected Republicans pulling away. Remember Jason Chaffeitz said ‘I’m out.”
On Republicans’ eventual return to supporting Trump:
They all realized they hated Hillary Clinton, and that Donald Trump was the only guy who could beat Hillary Clinton, and they all kind of came back in the fold.
On his view of of Texas politics, and Trump’s impact here:
I think Texas is the most fascinating state to cover right now, because the political establishment – the people in power, with the exception of [House Speaker] Joe Straus – are so far to the right. Particularly people like Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz have embraced the trolling as politics that Trump used. So much of what they do is try to elicit liberal anger at themselves, or elite anger at themselves, and having that be a reflected kind of glory for them.
On how Ted Cruz uses trolling as politics:
Ted Cruz plays up the fact that people hate him. Establishment Republicans hate him; Democrats hate him. To him,that’s a badge of honor – that he is hated by these people that his voters don’t like.