On Tuesday the New York Times published an extraordinary deep dive into President Donald Trump’s finances. The piece was put together by Susanne Craig, David Barstow, and Russ Buettner — and took up eight pages of the newspaper’s Wednesday edition. Craig told CNN that putting everything together was one of the most difficult tasks that she’s ever faced in her career as a journalist.
“Imagine,” said Craig as she described the search for details on the money behind Trump family business, “someone tossing a million white puzzle pieces into Times Square and being asked to put it back together.”
Almost two years to the day in October 2016, the same reporters published a story on Trump’s taxes after Craig received an anonymous letter that included his tax records from 1995. The next month Trump was elected president while never disclosing any of his tax records.
In March 2017, David Cay Johnston retrieved a copy of Trump’s 2005 returns, setting forth an 18-month investigation that would lead to many dead ends and lucky breaks in creating a full view of wealth behind the Trump empire.
The three Times reporters retrieved confidential tax returns, financial records, and depositions — often by means that none of them would go on the record to clarify.
“We had thousands of documents. Hundreds of tax returns,” Craig told CNN. “Piecing all that together, understanding what they did, was beyond hard. We triangulated documents. Compared tax returns to financial statements and bank statements. And then talked to sources on it. Today we put it into one story, all explained. But it started with piles.”
Buettner, Barstow, and Craig worked for months in a locked room on the fourth floor of The New York Times headquarters where only they had the keys. While the rest of the office wrote in cubicles, the three reporters had to ensure the secrecy of their project.
When the information was ready for presentation, no one held back from ensuring that it filtered through all forms of media. The same filmmakers that made The Fourth Estate documentary for Showtime were brought on board to follow the investigation and to create a new documentary — The Family Business: Trump and Taxes — which will be airing on Showtime on Sunday. The documentary is still being put together, and will likely be adjusted until it is officially on the air.
When the story dropped, it sent a shockwave through the world of politics and journalism. Many fellow reporters were left in awe at the depth of the article, as well as the confidence put behind it.
“Do you know how high the bar is for the NYT to directly accuse someone, let alone a sitting president, of tax fraud, which is a federal crime?” said Binyamin Appelbaum, the Washington correspondent of The New York Times. “It’s very, very high. And here we are.”