Susanne Craig provides a look into The New York Times’ Trump tax exposé – SABEW19

Susanne Craig of The New York Times gave a glimpse inside the 18-month investigation into the original of President Donald Trump’s wealth.














By Andres Guerra Luz
The Cronkite School

When Susanne Craig and her colleagues began what would turn into an 18-month investigation into the origins of President Donald Trump’s wealth, the New York Times reporter said they had a simple question that originated from the president’s 2005 tax returns.

“The most stunning thing on them was that Donald Trump made money that year,” Craig told audience members at the Society for Advancing Business Writing and Editing spring conference. “We couldn’t figure out how, knowing what we knew about his financial condition.”

The three reporters knew from previous work that Trump reported an almost $1 billion loss in his 1995 tax records. Then, Trump’s 2005 tax records leaked to former Times journalist David Cay Johnston showed that Trump made $153 million in income that year.

Craig and her colleagues focused on bridging the gap in between, diving into the cash empire of the president’s father, Fred. The result was an over yearlong investigation that involved more than 100,000 pages of documents, meticulous sourcing and piecing together findings from a patchwork of public and private documents.

Craig recently received a Pulitzer Prize and SABEW Best in Business award for her work on the investigation and the followup stories that spawned from it.

She spoke at the SABEW conference for a Friday session titled “Go Inside The New York Times’ Trump Tax Exposé,” which featured a discussion between her and Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Hall, who is chief economics correspondent and senior investigative reporter for McClatchy Newspapers and a former SABEW president.

In the over hour-long session, Craig answered questions from both Hall and audience members to offer unique insight on how her team provided a definitive narrative on how Trump made his riches.

Describing the reporting process, Craig said she and her colleagues first worked to establish what all Fred owned. Then, they logged biographies for every building and listed chronologically what happened in each building, some of which dated back to the late 1940s.

One of the biggest revelations in the reporting process was discovering an obscure family-owned company named All County Building Supply & Maintenance.

Craig said she made the finding when she was passing time one night, Google searching an outdated term the team had come across in their reporting, “mortgage receivable.” From there, Craig said she found an unredacted disclosure form that Trump’s sister, Maryanne, filed in relation to a Senate hearing to confirm her appointment as a federal judge.

The document showed a $1 million contribution from All County, which Craig said led the team to inquiries that ultimately revealed the Trump family was using the company to move cash from Fred’s companies to his children without paying for a 55 percent tax on gifts.

Craig said she and her team also took a lot of considerations into who they spoke to and how they interviewed them. When preparing for the interview, Craig said the team deliberated how many of them should go, what information they would bring up and sometimes which one of them was best suited to speak with the source, depending on their characteristics.

Henry Dubroff, founder and editor at the Pacific Coast Business Times and a judge for the SABEW Best in Business awards, praised Craig and the team for the project.

“It had never been so clear to us that a story was superior to all the other entries in a category,” Dubroff said.

Craig said the significance of the story was that it uncovered outright fraud that Trump and his family participated in and reversed a narrative that the president created about how he gained his wealth.

“We’ve written definitively the matter of his life,” she said. “I still can’t believe what we’ve found. And that’s now out there, and it’s told powerfully through their own documents and their own words.”

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