Jonathan Greenberg used to compile the list of the richest Americans for Forbes magazine and he recalls the stories of interactions between himself and others with Trump over the question of his wealth. If you dare to claim that he isn’t worth as much as he says he is — which varies wildly from one minute to the next — he will bully and threaten and even sue you over it.
I was the lead real estate wealth estimator for the Forbes 400 list in its early years. Trump called me twice in 1984, posing as his fictional “VP of finance” John Barron and professing the kind of riches that ought to land him on the list, despite failing to document them. So when a New York Times exposé last month showed that Trump had lost $1.1 billion between 1985 and 1994, I looked back at my archives and began calling old colleagues to compare these figures with what Trump was telling journalists three decades ago.
First, I turned up three never-before-published letters from Trump to Forbes from 1989, in which he claimed to be worth $3.7 billion. We now know that he reported losses of about $100 million that year and that he was treading near insolvency. Then I started to contact other people who had collided with Trump in those years. Journalists told me how he’d tried to block their reporting on his empire — by making up ethical scandals about them, furnishing fake documents and, in one case, threatening to expose the private life of a closeted media executive. Wall Street analysts witnessed a campaign of intimidation that began when Trump got one of them fired for (correctly) doubting his casinos’ ability to pay off their debts.
“What is this building worth?”
“I feel like it’s worth 50 billion dollars.”
Yep, that’ll work. All of this is part of Trump’s carefully constructed narrative that he is fabulously rich and successful and you should therefore want to be like him, which means buying products he endorses, staying at his hotels, and so forth. That’s why he claimed over and over again that he only got one small loan from his father to launch his real estate empire when, in reality, he got hundreds of millions of dollars from him. It was the entire basis for the fraudulent Trump “University,” which told students that they could be just like him if only they followed his simple rules for success. His product is not real estate, it’s himself. And selling himself requires lying, intimidating and bullying anyone who questions his story.