Apr 20, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Ex-Forbes writer: Trump lied his way to Forbes 400

Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaking at a joint press conference. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump claimed he owned most of his father's real estate empire in the 1980s and posed as an aide named 'John Barron' to ensure he earned a spot on the Forbes 400 list, former Forbes writer Jonathan Greenberg alleges in a Washington Post editorial.

Flashback: Trump used the alter-ego of Barron in the past when posing as a public relations representative, and it's not the first time Trump has been cited as inflating his wealth.

The backstory: Forbes valued Trump's holdings at $200 million, but he claimed they were worth $1 billion. Trump made multiple efforts to convince Greenberg over the phone, sometimes through representatives, and Greenberg recorded those conversations.

The juiciest excerpts:

  • Trump posing as "John Barron": "When I recently rediscovered and listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I didn’t see through the ruse."
  • Trump's true valuation: "In our first-ever list, in 1982, we included him at $100 million, but Trump was actually worth roughly $5 million — a paltry sum by the standards of his super-monied peers..."
  • His stake in Fred Trump's business: "It would be decades before I learned that Forbes had been conned: In the early 1980s, Trump had zero equity in his father’s company."
  • Trump's actual assets: "They found that he had an income of about $100,000 a year, while his 1979 tax returns showed a $3.4 million taxable loss. Trump’s personal assets consisted of a $1 million trust fund that Fred Trump provided to each of his children and grandchildren, a few checking accounts with about $400,000 in them and a 1977 Mercedes 450SL."
  • A glimpse at today: "In 2016, Trump’s presidential campaign put out a statement saying the candidate had a net worth “in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.” But he has never released his tax returns..."

Go deeper: The audio conversations between Greenberg and Trump.

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