A defensive Donald Trump lashed out reporters during a combative press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan as he faced sustained questioning over the money he pledged to donate to veterans’ organizations.
The New York real estate developer was under pressure to release details about the $6m he said he raised for veterans during a charity event in Iowa that his campaign organized after he chose to skip a Republican debate hosted by Fox News because of an ongoing feud with the network.
Speaking from a podium at Trump Tower and flanked by veterans wearing camouflage “Make America Great” hats, Trump announced on Tuesday morning that he had distributed $5.6m to dozens of veterans groups, including a personal donation of $1m to the Law Enforcement Foundation. Trump held up a copy of the $1m check to hammer home his point.
“I raised close to $6m,” Trump said. “It’ll probably be over that amount when it’s all said and done, but as of this moment it’s $5.6m.”
Sneering at the media gathered before him, Trump asked: “Are you ready? Do you have a pen?” He began reading out a list of the names of each organization that he said has received donations, and the exact dollar amounts that have been distributed to the groups.
The Republican repeatedly tore away from the list to rail against the media, calling journalists “not good people”, “bad people”, “so unfair”, “the most dishonest people I’ve ever met” – and even “ sleazy ”. He called the press coverage of his fundraiser “potentially libelous” and blamed the media for distorting an act of goodwill – which he didn’t want to have credit for – and making it appear duplicitous.
“The press should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump lamented. “I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”
He added: “I wanted to do this out of the goodness of my heart. I didn’t want to do this where the press is all involved.”
After Trump announced that he had raised the $6m for veterans in January and posed for photographs of him handing oversized checks to certain charities, the money did not materialize. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Trump had not yet made good on his own donation.
Trump blamed the delayed distribution of the money on a laborious vetting process, and said at this point all the pledged funds have been paid out except for a single check to one organization waiting on IRS approval.
“When you send checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to people and to companies and to groups that you’ve never heard of, charitable organizations, you have to vet it,” Trump said. “You send people out. You do a lot of work. Now most of the money went out quite a while ago. Some of it went out more recently.”
Asked by an ABC News journalist, Tom Llamas, if this was an example of his tendency to exaggerate, Trump said firmly that it was not. He then returned to the reporter minutes later.
“What I don’t want is when I raise millions of dollars, have people say, like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC,” Trump said of Llamas. “He’s a sleaze in my book,” he continued. “You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.”
As he continued his broadside against the press, one reporter asked if this treatment was to be expected in the White House briefing room.
“Yes, it is,” he said. “It is going to be like this.”
Outside Trump Tower, a group of veteran activists protested the presumptive Republican nominee waving signs that said “Veterans vs Hate”, the name of their grassroots organization, and “not a political prop”.
Trump claimed during the press conference that the protesters had been sent by his likely general election opponent, Hillary Clinton. The veterans said they had not, and as evidence one admitted to having voted for Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s Democratic challenger.
“Donald Trump is trying to discredit veterans because we’re not being convenient props in his narrative of bigotry and hate,” said Perry O’Brien, an Afghanistan veteran.
O’Brien continued: “I’m here because when I served in Afghanistan, I served with women, I served with Muslims, and I served with Latinos – all groups that Donald Trump has maligned and even threatened. All of those folks actually donned the uniform, they actually served their country. As far as we can see, as veterans in the military community, Donald Trump only seems interested in serving himself.”