When New York Times metro reporter Susanne Craig opened her snail mailbox to discover an envelope containing Donald Trump‘s 1995 tax returns, it was the sort of inbox discovery she was always on the lookout for.
“My colleagues make fun of my old-fashioned devotion to my mailbox,” Craig begins as she describes her account of how those tax documents came into her possession. “It’s about 30 feet from my desk — among all the other third-floor employees’ mailboxes — and I check it constantly, always hoping a tipster will have sent me some revealing letter or secret document.”
Some cinematic moments followed: Craig rushing over to reporter David Barstow, ending the phone call he was on when she “waved the tax documents in front of him”; Craig, Barstow and colleagues Megan Twohey and Russ Buettner taking over the investigations team conference room, going through every bit of the physical evidence, from envelope to postmark, as they planned their next moves. “We even checked every other mailbox on the third floor — and there are hundreds of them — in case the tipster had mailed additional documents to any other reporter,” she writes.
They spent the next eight days on the investigation—comparing what information existed about Trump’s business dealings and finances to what the documents where showing, calling in accounting experts for help, boning up on the ’95 tax code and trying to figure out and locate anyone who may have been involved in the tax prep.
It was the interview with tax preparer Jack Mitnick that was one of the strongest and most compelling components of the team’s final product, a report that showed Trump claimed an almost billion dollar loss that may have resulted in him getting out of paying federal taxes for the next 18 years. To get the interview, Barstow took a trip down to Florida:
But the breakthrough came when David traveled to Florida and tracked down Jack Mitnick, the semiretired accountant who had prepared and signed Mr. Trump’s tax returns.
Mr. Mitnick was initially reluctant to talk, but he eventually agreed to meet David in a bagel shop.
In a conversation there, Mr. Mitnick not only said the records appeared to be authentic; he also solved the mystery of the digits that did not line up. It turned out that the tax preparation software he had used did not allow him to enter a loss of nine figures. So, he recalled, he had to manually enter the first two digits, using an IBM Selectric typewriter.
As for why Craig, “Probably because I wrote an exhaustive examination of Mr. Trump’s $650 million of debt in August that drew millions of readers,” she writes, before closing with some simple advice: “Check your mailboxes.”
Craig was also on Reliable Sources yesterday, where she went the “no comment” route on a question about whether there was more to come.
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) October 2, 2016