You might have heard about the big reveal on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night that Donald J. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes in 2005. It certainly was interesting.
But it was not exactly a scoop.
For here is what I wrote for the Informer gossip column of Forbes, which I also edited, published on February 9, 2007:
Just a Bunch of Zeros
A snappy moment enlivened a Camden, N.J. hearing on Donald J. Trump’s libel suit over author Timothy L. O’Brien’s TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. The book says Trump is worth less than $250 million. “I think I’m going to hire his accountant,” Superior Court Judge Irvin J. Snyder exclaimed on the bench after eyeing Trump’s still-secret-to-the-public tax returns. “He only paid $38,000 in tax.” Huge evidence for the defense? “Actually,” O’Brien lawyer Andrew J. Ceresney stammered, “it’s 38–well, 38 million, Your Honor.” Snyder replied, “Oh, thanks. I missed that.” Trump lawyer William M. Tambussi didn’t skip a beat: “So did Mr. O’Brien, Judge.” Trump says he’s worth $6 billion; FORBES figures $2.9 billion. –William P. Barrett
A little background here: Forbes, with which I have been associated for most of the past 30 years, long has closely monitored The Donald’s net worth for its annual list of the 400 richest Americans. So O’Brien’s book, with its low-ball valuation of Trump’s wealth, was of great interest to us.
We intensely followed the litigation as it wound its way through a beat-up state courthouse in a beat-up town. As it happened, it was a courthouse I covered as a newspaper reporter in the 1970s decades before becoming New To Las Vegas.
Thanks to gag orders demanded by the Trump side, few documents became public, especially his latest tax return for 2005. So comments made in open court received our scrutiny. Despite speculation now that Trump leaked two pages of his own tax return, I think it more likely the source was someone connected with the Camden lawsuit, for which that very same tax return was produced as evidence.
A different trial judge in Camden eventually dismissed the case without a trial, a decision that was unanimously affirmed by a New Jersey appellate court.
These days, the case is probably best known for Trump’s testimony during a deposition, the transcript of which was made public, about his, shall we say, non-GAAP-accounting approach to valuing his assets. To wit:
Q: Now, Mr. Trump, have you always been completely truthful in your public statements about your net worth of properties?
Trump: I try.
Q: Have you ever not been truthful?
Trump: My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try.
Q: Let me just understand that a little bit. Let’s talk about net worth for a second. You said that the net worth goes up and down based upon your own feelings?
Trump: Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling.
So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.
Remember this the next time you evaluate the factual basis behind Trump’s presidential tweets. It might just be a feeling. Now that’s another scoop.