A History of Donald Trump's Net Worth Publicity (1988-2011)

His boasts and outsiders' estimates range from $150 million to $7 billion

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Forget whether he's a legit presidential candidate--for two decades, the press has been trying to figure out if Donald Trump is really the deal-making billionaire he claims to be. Now that he's saturating the airwaves with his birtherism and polling well among Republican voters, reporters are the saying the "financially embattled thousandaire" will never officially run, because he'd have to disclose how much money he actually has. But Politico's Maggie Haberman reports that Trump is not a closeted pauper, but in fact far richer than previously reported, with a net worth of about $7 billion.

That sounds suspiciously like what someone from Trump's PR office would say, but who knows? Even financial reporters have found it difficult to figure out how much The Donald owns--and he's harassed at least one who's tried. So, following on our political history of Donald Trump's publicity, here is a history of the press's best guesstimates.

  • March 1988: The New York Times says Trump is worth $3 billion when he buys the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for $390 million.
  • October 1988: Trump estimated to be worth $1 billion by Forbes magazine.
  • July 1989: Trump's net worth estimated to be $1.5 billion--and increase of $500 million in 10 months. He makes Forbes' World Billionaires list for the first time.
  • June 1990: Under the headline "As A Laughingstock, Donald Trump Is Paying Big Dividends," The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Trump had had a very bad year marked by marital and financial fiasco, including the sting of ex-wife "Ivana's charge that her estranged hubby is not a billionaire but worth a mere $400 million to $600 million."
  • July 1990: Trump was dropped from dropped from Forbes' list of the world's billionaires after the value of his real estate business plummeted. Forbes estimated he was worth about $500 million that year. Others guessed less.
  • January 2000: Trump claims he's worth $5 billion. But even his closest associates don't entirely back that up. The Wall Street Journal explained that "several of his billions are based on profits that are far in the future--and far from guaranteed." Abraham Wallach, executive vice president of Trump Organization, hedged by saying, "Donald exaggerates sometimes. He's talking about futures." The newspaper noted that Forbes had listed Trump's fortune at closer to $1.6 billion, but New York real estate professionals asserted his fortune "falls far short" of even the lower figure.
  • April 2000: Wallach quickly got more in line with his boss's talking points when he spoke with Fortune a few months later. Reporter Jerry Useem recounts that when his magazine was putting together a list of billionaires, "Trump called so many times to haggle over his net worth that an intern was assigned to field his calls." Useem continues that when it comes to Trump's claim that he's worth $5 billion, "his aides are so used to their veracity being questioned that they went to almost laughable lengths to assure me they weren't lying, as when Abe Wallach, Trump's finance man, produced a letter from a company offering $120 million for a piece of Trump property. 'This is not concocted,' Wallach told me, though I'd never suggested such a thing. 'This is real.'"
  • March 2005: Just after the first season of The Apprentice, Forbes put Trump's worth $2.6 billion, ranking him in a 15-way tie for 228th richest person in the world.
  • October 2005: Timothy O'Brien's book TrumpNation charges that Trump is worth just $150 million to $250 million. Trump sued for defamation, and lost.
  • 2005: Documents from the defamation suit revealed that as it was underwriting a $640 million loan to Trump to build in Chicago, Deutsche Bank estimated Trump's evaluated his net worth was $788 million. Trump disputed the number.
  • December 2007: In a deposition for the suit against O'Brien, Trump that the number was more than $4 billion, and that was "a very conservative number." Accounting for brand value, he thought $6 billion was a good estimate.
  • March 2009: Forbes ranks Trump in an 18-way tie for 450th richest person in the world, with $1.6 billion.
  • September 2010: Forbes estimates Trump is worth $2.4 billion on its Forbes 400 list, putting him in six-way tie for 153rd richest person in America.
  • March 2011: "What's the difference between Donald Trump's hair and a wet raccoon? A wet raccoon doesn't have seven billion fucking dollars in the bank." -- Donald Trump at his Comedy Central roast.
  • April 2011: "If and when Donald Trump announces his decision to run for the office of the presidency, he will be filing financial disclosure statements that will show his net worth is in excess of $7 billion with more than $250 million of cash, and very little debt. He is very, very liquid, said a source with knowledge of Trump's financial holdings" -- Politico
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