AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Donald Trump says he's raised millions of dollars for veterans groups, but reporters looking into it have questioned the numbers. So this morning, Trump says he'll provide answers at a news conference in Manhattan. NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea joins us now to explain where this began. Hey, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
CHANG: So Don, set this up for us. I understand you want to take us back to a cold, snowy night in Iowa.
GONYEA: It was cold. I was there.
GONYEA: It was January 28. It was just days before the Iowa caucuses. OK, that night, Fox News was sponsoring the latest GOP debate and the last debate before the caucuses. But Donald Trump decided to skip the debate. His reason - his claim that Fox News and anchor Megyn Kelly had insulted him in the previous debate. You all recall that.
So instead, he held his own competing event. It was just a couple of miles away. And he promised at that event to raise millions for veterans. It was a big charity event with veterans participating. Trump was the headliner. And at one point, Trump declared the evening a big success. Here he is from that night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: We set up the website. I called some friends. And we just cracked - the sign was just given - we just cracked $6 million, right? Six million.
GONYEA: Six million, you heard him say that. So a pretty clear announcement there and also a very proud moment for him.
CHANG: So what happened to the 6 million bucks?
GONYEA: Well, nothing close to $6 million has been confirmed paid out to veterans groups at this point. Reporting by The Washington Post and other news outlets put the tally at maybe a couple of million below that. One reporter in particular, David Fahrenthol of The Post, has really been dogging this one for months now. And Trump has been very angry with him.
In response to questions, Trump's campaign manager and the candidate himself have, at times, denied ever saying they raised 6 million, despite what we just heard in that tape. So there's that. But we should also add that when there's a big, multimillion dollar fundraiser of any kind, it can easily take many, many months for money to be paid out.
And some veterans groups do say they have gotten big checks. The question is ultimately if it matches what Trump has been promoting or if there's been a lot of exaggeration on his part.
CHANG: So what I don't get is some of this has been in the media in the past week, even as Trump reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination. Why is this news conference happening today?
GONYEA: Yeah, he might have spent last week just kind of doing a victory lap. But he didn't. He's been engaged in this back-and-forth. He got into a Twitter war with The Washington Post, which was asking a lot of questions. You know, there haven't been records, specific records. And Trump - one example. Last week, he put out an Instagram message defending himself.
It's a 20-second video with him staring into the camera in close-up, and we hear this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: I raised almost $6 million for the veterans including putting up $1 million of my own money. I had no obligation to do anything or to do so, and I get nothing but bad press from the dishonest media. It is absolutely disgraceful.
GONYEA: So we get called dishonest a lot (laughter) by him. I should say here that he does very well with veterans. There are always vets highly visible at his rallies. So it's important that he not appear to be stiffing or shortchanging them. And we can expect he'll be on the offensive today at this news conference.
CHANG: So Trump was in Washington over the weekend speaking to a group of motorcyclists who gather on the mall every Memorial Day to remember Vietnam POWs and those missing in action. And we heard from a group who call themselves Bikers for Trump. Can you remind us who they are?
GONYEA: The group says it has tens of thousands of members nationwide. And they have provided security at some Trump events. They do so without formal coordination from the campaign, though they're certainly welcome. What they do is at any event, they show up outside and they provide a buffer on bikes against the protesters that are always there.
It fits in with a major theme of the Trump campaign, talking about veterans, getting, as he puts it, a raw deal from the government. This weekend, in fact, he said at the rally that veterans are treated far worse than undocumented workers. So look for all of that to come up today as well at this press conference.
CHANG: That was NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks, Don.
GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.