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The confidence man


This amazing story from the WAPO documents what future historians, assuming there are any, should classify as the Trump Lie.  The Trump Lie is a lie so outrageous that it ends up fooling even people who are well aware it’s a lie, because of its sheer shamelessness and audacity.

Trump is totally obsessed (of course) with the Forbes 400 list, and has been since it’s inception in the early 1980s.  At that time, he was claiming a net worth of nearly one billion dollars, and he set both Roy Cohn and “John Barron” — Trump himself in telephonic sock puppet form — upon Jonathan Greenberg, a young reporter for the magazine, to try to intimidate him into getting Forbes to publish what even at the time Greenberg realized was a vastly exaggerated claim.

Greenberg did the best he could at the time to track down Trump’s actual net worth, and was quite pleased when he managed to reduced Trump’s claimed wealth by a factor of nearly ten.  Little did he realize that he had been utterly conned anyway:

The most revelatory document describing Trump’s true net worth in the early ’80s was a 1981 report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. O’Brien obtained a copy for his book. Trump had applied for an Atlantic City casino license, and regulators were able to review his tax returns and personal and corporate debt, giving them the most accurate picture of his finances. 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. Nowhere did the report list an ownership stake in the Trump Organization’s residential apartments. Trump also possessed a few parcels of valuable but highly leveraged real estate, financed with $22.5 million in debt, all of it secured by his father’s assets. He did not own a safe deposit box or stocks in publicly traded companies. In sum, Trump was worth less than $5 million, not the $100 million that I reported in the first Forbes 400. . .

I was a determined 25-year-old reporter, and I thought that, by reeling Trump back from some of his more outrageous claims, I’d done a public service and exposed the truth. But his confident deceptions were so big that they had an unexpected effect: Instead of believing that they were outright fabrications, my Forbes colleagues and I saw them simply as vain embellishments on the truth. We were so wrong.

The whole story, which has to be read to be believed, is full of stuff like this. Short version: Trump had no real money at all (by New Gilded Age standards anyway), until his father died in 1999.  Since then, do we have any idea what’s happened to the massive inheritance that provided essentially all the wealth this no-count grifter has ever managed to get his stubby fingers on?  Nyet.

(A side point: kudos to Greenberg for taking the position that, when an off the record source manages to deceive a journalist into printing what turn out to be lies, that journalist has no obligation to keep the source’s identity confidential).


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