On February 1, the day of the Iowa caucuses, David Fahrenthold noticed something unusual at a Donald Trump rally: the presidential candidate was giving away money. Trump had held a charity event in Des Moines days earlier, where he said he raised more than $6 million, and now he was handing it out one oversized check at a time. Except that the checks totaled only $1.1 million and didn’t seem to include the $1 million Trump had pledged himself.
Fahrenthold started asking questions. What followed was a year-long run of stories that not only unmasked Trump’s deceptive and illegal charitable activities, and led to the biggest scoop of the presidential campaign — a previously unseen Access Hollywood video in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. All together, Fahrenthold, with the help of researcher Alice Crites, revealed a portrait of Trump that the billionaire had long sought to keep secret and that was critical for voters as they chose a new president.
In one of his first stories, in March, Fahrenthold showed that Trump had given away about half of the money he had claimed to raise at the Iowa event. A month later, Fahrenthold revealed that this was a pattern for Trump — he claimed to give big, but there was little evidence to back up those claims.
By May, as the search for the $6 million had run cold, Fahrenthold did something unheard of for an investigative reporter: he told the world what he was doing and asked for help. The search for the missing money captivated social media and, hours later, Trump announced that he would follow through on his promise to donate $1 million.
Over the next several months, Fahrenthold, newly abetted by an eager army of Twitter-mobilized citizen journalists, continued to document how Trump had not just broken the laws of charitable giving, but also its customs. Fahrenthold showed that Trump had not given to his foundation in years. The money he promised to give away on his hit TV show didn’t actually come from him. He used funds from his foundation to settle his company’s legal disputes. He bought portraits of himself with his charity’s money and hung one at a property he owned — in probable violation of “self-dealing” laws. It turned out that he had not even properly registered his foundation in New York.
On Dec. 24, nearly a year after David Fahrenthold spotted something unusual at a political rally in Iowa, Donald Trump announced that he would shut down his charitable foundation.