ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Trump campaign is struggling to explain the practices of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, Trump's charity. The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold has been digging into the activities of the charity, and this week he reported that it had spent more than a quarter million dollars to settle lawsuits involving Trump's businesses. Now, David Fahrenthold, welcome back to the program.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Great to be here.
SIEGEL: And to illustrate what you found this week, I want you to tell us about the story of the flag pole at one of Trump's resorts, the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach Florida. What happened?
FAHRENTHOLD: Sure. It starts in 2006. Trump puts up an 80-foot-tall flagpole in front of Mar-a-Lago, this oceanfront club in Palm Beach. That's way too tall for the town code. And so after this long fight between the - Trump and the town, Trump's club ends up owning the town $120,000 in unpaid building code fines.
Now, eventually there's a legal settlement in which the town agrees to waive the $120,000 of fines if Trump's club will agree to make a hundred thousand dollar donation to a particular veterans charity that the town has chosen.
Now, that donation is made but not by the club. Instead it's made by Trump's charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. It's hundred thousand basically saves Trump's business from having to make the same payment.
SIEGEL: How important is the distinction between a check drawn by the club and a check drawn by the charity, the foundation?
FAHRENTHOLD: It's huge. So the club is owned by Trump. The club and Trump are effectively the same. But a charity is not Trump's property. It's a tax-exempt organization. He's the president of it, but it's money should be used for charity. You can't take money out of your charity to pay off one of your businesses' bills. The business owed a hundred thousand dollars. The charity paid it instead, saving that business a hundred thousand dollars. That's called self-dealing, and the IRS prohibits it.
SIEGEL: Donald Trump says he's under almost permanent audit by the IRS. To your knowledge, has the IRS looked into the Trump Foundation?
FAHRENTHOLD: We have asked, and it's possible they are and they're just not commenting on it. The one investigation we know about is by the New York attorney general who regulates charities in that state. And that Trump Foundation is headquartered in New York state.
SIEGEL: You have also reported about how Trump allegedly used $20,000 from the Trump Foundation to buy a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself. And then again in 2014, he spent $10,000 to buy another portrait at a charity fundraiser. Do you know where those portraits are, and are they in the possession of some charity?
FAHRENTHOLD: Which - it's a good point. They have to be. If the Trump Foundation pays for them, they have to be put to a charitable use, or else if Trump hangs them in one of his clubs, that's self-dealing - again, a violation of the law. We know we're one of those paintings is because last night Univision anchor and Miami (unintelligible) Enrique Acevedo heard about this, heard that it - that one of these paintings - that $10,000 one - might be at Trump's Doral Golf Resort in Miami.
Enrique used points and bought a room, wandered around a hotel in the middle of the night, talked to the cleaning people. And they opened the door into the Champions Bar and Grill, which is a part of Trump's Doral Golf Resort. In that door was the paint - the $10,000 painting of Donald Trump hanging on the wall in Trump's for-profit business.
SIEGEL: Now, there have been lots of responses from the Trump campaign - not very detailed responses. But you initially asked them about all this. Have you received any response from the Trump campaign or from the Trump Foundation?
FAHRENTHOLD: No. I've asked a number of times about - before this story came out - with some very detailed questions about all the purchases we described with - that appear to be acts of self-dealing, sort of giving Mr. Trump a chance to say, it's not what it seems or there's some of the paperwork you're missing.
And I heard no response at all - literally not even a no-comment. The only response came out 12 hours after the story posted yesterday which called the story inaccurate but provided no actual examples of inaccuracies.
SIEGEL: In addition to these items that you've reported on, were there other obvious philanthropic gifts that the Trump Foundation made that you could say, well, there was $300,000 given to this charity or a half a million to that?
FAHRENTHOLD: The Trump Foundation does give out money to charities. And when you look at its donations, though, you don't really see the kind of pattern - sort of causes you see with other wealthy people's donations. There's not one kind of cancer research or one university that Trump gives to in big amounts again and again and again.
Instead his gifts seem to really track his business. Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach and some other Trump businesses make a lot of money off renting themselves out to charity. And so Trump often uses the money in the Trump Foundation to give to the charities that give back to him that are his customers and pay money to his businesses.
SIEGEL: David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, thanks for talking with us today.
FAHRENTHOLD: Hey, thank you.