In 1984, when President Donald Trump was a 38-year-old budding real estate mogul, a Trump Organization aide called the reporter who was developing the annual Forbes 400 list to try to convince him that Trump was a billionaire, not a $200 millionaire, as the magazine had suggested the year before
That aide, according to an op-ed from the former Forbes reporter in the Washington Post Friday, was actually Trump himself.
According to reporter Jonathan Greenberg’s account of his interactions with Trump, the then-private citizen put Greenberg through the wringer to convince him how “loaded” he was.
“From the beginning, Trump was obsessed,” Greenberg wrote. “The project could offer a clear, supposedly authoritative declaration of his status as a player, and while many of the super-rich wanted to keep their names off the ranking, Trump was desperate to scale it.”
When the Forbes 400 was first published in 1982, Trump tried to persuade Greenberg he was worth $900 million. The magazine estimated his worth at $100 million. The following year, Trump’s lawyer Roy Cohn got involved, attempting to manipulate Greenberg into publishing that Trump was worth $700 million because of his recent sale of a casino in Atlantic City. The magazine instead published that Trump and his father Fred Trump were worth $200 million each.
The next year, Greenberg got a call from John Barron, a spokesperson for Trump, who the Post has since reported is actually Trump’s alter-ego, with a thicker New York accent.
Per Greenberg’s op-ed:
“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: Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. ‘Barron’ told me that Trump had taken possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred. ‘Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump,’ he said. ‘You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] . . . but I think you can really use Donald Trump now.’ Trump, through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned ‘in excess of 90 percent’ of his family’s business. With all the home runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he should be called a billionaire.”
Forbes has since lamented the magazine’s difficulty with assessing Trump’s actual wealth over the years — in 1982 Trump was actually only worth $5 million, not $100 million, Greenberg said.
Read Greenberg’s full account and listen to the audio of phone call with “Barron” here.