It's no secret that Donald Trump likes talking about how rich he is — so much so that when he launched his presidential campaign in 2015, he declared: "I'm really rich." Critics have long questioned exactly how rich the president is, though. Journalist Jonathan Greenberg claimed in a Washington Post article published on Friday that Trump lied about his wealth in 1984 in order to make Forbes magazine's annual ranking of America’s richest people. (The White House has not commented on the story.)
While Greenberg was reporting for the 1984 Forbes 400 list, he says a Trump Organization official named John Barron called to tell him that Trump had acquired company assets from his father that bumped up his overall wealth. “Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump,” Greenberg says Barron told him. “You have down Fred Trump [as half owner]... but I think you can really use Donald Trump now.” Barron also asserted that Trump should be classified as a billionaire.
Greenburg says he was skeptical at the time. But the real twist came years later when he re-listened to a recording of that phone call. He believes "Barron" was actually Trump himself. "Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him," Greenburg wrote in The Post.
Trump apparently used the pseudonym John Barron pretty frequently. When reporters called the Trump Organization in the '80s requesting an interview with Trump, they were often referred to a spokesperson named Barron who was actually Trump himself, The Washington Post reported in 2016. He reportedly posed as Barron for over a decade whenever he wanted to talk to the press without personally being quoted. As The Post's Callum Borchers wrote in 2016:
Trump’s use of an assumed name runs counter to the persona he has crafted as the leading Republican candidate for president — one of an unfiltered, politically incorrect maverick who is unafraid to say anything. It suggests that the billionaire real estate mogul is — or, at least, was — not so bold as he likes to present himself.
Greenberg's story from 1984 fits into the previous narrative about Trump's fake spokesperson. Trump reportedly wanted to ensure he made the Forbes 400 list, but apparently didn't want a journalist to know he was personally calling to talk up how rich he was. So instead of calling as himself, Greenberg believes Trump disguised himself (though rather poorly) as Barron.
While using a fake name, Greenberg also says Trump completely lied about his wealth in order to make the list. Greengerg wrote:
It took decades to unwind the elaborate farce Trump had built to project an image as one of the richest people in America. Nearly every assertion supporting that claim was untrue. Trump wasn’t just poorer than he said he was. Over time I have learned that he should not have been on the first three Forbes 400 lists at all.
In 1982, Forbes valued Trump at $100 million, but Greenberg now claims Trump was actually worth roughly $5 million — "a paltry sum by the standards of his super-monied peers."
Trump claimed in 2015 that he was worth more than $10 billion, though that was never proven. Forbes currently estimates Trump's net worth to be $3.1 billion and named him "the first billionaire president." However, because he's yet to release his tax returns to the public, no one knows for sure how stacked his bank accounts are.
Greenberg paints a picture of a man who's spent decades presenting himself to the world as much wealthier than he actually is. Being classified a billionaire was apparently so important to Trump that he reportedly used his trusty pseudonym to lie to reporters. Those actions would still be immoral if he wasn't the president, but the reported lies — which he's maintained to this day — helped propel him into the White House.