He said that the story reminded him of his 2014 report about the federal government’s giant paperwork cave -- a huge facility where hundreds of federal employees still used paper files to compute federal retiree benefits.
In reporting jargon, I’d tried the front door: I asked to tour the mine. OPM said no. So then I went looking for windows. I sought out ex-employees, who had firsthand knowledge of the place but weren’t beholden to OPM’s desire for secrecy.
I found them. By piecing together their recollections, I got the story that the government didn’t want me to find.
Now Trump himself was the abandoned limestone mine.
If he wouldn’t tell me what he had given away, I’d try to find the answer anyway — by talking to charities with firsthand knowledge of what he had given.He learned that Trump had illegally used $20k in Trump Foundation money to buy a portrait of himself.
I kept looking, posting details of my search to Twitter. Soon I had attracted a virtual army, ready to join the scavenger hunt. I had begun the year with 4,700 Twitter followers. By September I had more than 60,000 and climbing fast.He did not find the specific portrait he was looking for. Then the story took a turn.
“Google ‘Havi Art Trump,’ ” said a strange voice on the phone one day, calling from the 561 area code. Palm Beach, Fla.
The Google search revealed a new portrait of Trump. This one was four feet tall, painted by Miami artist Havi Schanz. After a phone call, I confirmed that Trump had purchased it in 2014 at a charity auction run by the Unicorn Children’s Foundation. Once again, he had the Trump Foundation pay the bill.
I needed to find that portrait. I turned to my Twitter followers, putting out a photo of the new $10,000 portrait.
That was at 10:34 a.m.
By early evening I knew where it was.
“The Havi Painting was at Doral National in Miami, you can see two separate pics that tourists have taken of it,” wrote Allison Aguilar.
I’ve never met Aguilar. I learned later that she is a former HR manager who is now a stay-at-home mother in Atlanta, writing short stories on the side. Days before, looking for the $20,000 portrait, she had scoured the website for Trump’s golf resort at Doral, in Florida, scanning more than 500 user-generated photos of the resort’s rooms, restaurants and golf course.
About halfway through, she had spotted another portrait in a photo, hanging on a wall at the resort.
Then she saw my tweet, saying that I was now looking for that portrait, too.
“Oh, now that I’ve seen,” Aguilar remembered thinking.
The TripAdvisor photo she found was dated February 2016.
Was the portrait still there?
The answer was provided by another stranger.
Enrique Acevedo, an anchor at the Spanish-language network Univision, saw my tweet that night, broadcasting that Aguilar had traced the portrait to Doral. Acevedo realized that Doral was just a few blocks from the Univision studios. He booked a room for that night.
“I used points,” Acevedo said. “I didn’t want to ... spend any money on Trump’s property, so I used points.” After his newscast ended, Acevedo checked in and started quizzing the late-night cleaning crews.
“Have you seen this picture?” he asked. “They said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s downstairs.’ ”
Bingo. Acevedo found the $10,000 portrait, paid for with charity money, hanging on the wall of the resort’s sports bar.