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That Other Time Trump Fought Forbes Over His Net Worth

Trump isn't happy about Forbes estimating his net worth at less than half the $10 billion he claims, but it's not the first time Trump and the magazine have battled over the size of his personal fortune.

Posted on September 30, 2015, at 1:59 p.m. ET

J Pat Carter / AP

"You're gonna look bad," Donald Trump told Forbes in response to its estimate that his net worth was a paltry $4.5 billion, less than half of the $10 billion the real estate mogul says is his personal fortune.

"And look," he said in the story released Tuesday, "all I can say is Forbes is a bankrupt magazine, doesn't know what they're talking about."

It's not the first time the Republican presidential candidate has feuded with Forbes over his net worth.

The first battle came in 1990, a year after the magazine ranked him number 19 on its list of the 400 richest Americans. Forbes estimated Trump's net worth at $1.7 billion, less than the $3.7 billion he claimed for himself, but still lofty enough to appease Trump.

In fact, according to John O'Donnell, a former President of Trump Plaza, one of Trump's casinos in Atlantic City, the high ranking was the result of years of effort by The Donald to boost public perception of his wealth. O'Donnell says in Trumped!, an account of his time working for Trump written after he quit his job at Trump Plaza, that one tactic Trump resorted to was to refer a Forbes researcher to a lawyer he claimed worked for a man who supposedly offered him $650 million for a strip of property in Manhattan. The lawyer actually worked for Trump.

O'Donnell writes that this made Forbes "suspicious," and next year the publication ran a story revising its estimate of Trump's net worth downward by more than two-thirds.

The magazine conceded that Trump's assets had a market value of around $3.7 billion, a number that originated in 1988 with a one-page document Trump labeled "Confidential," but that his surrogates sent to Fortune and Forbes, according Harry Hurt III's Trump biography, Lost Tycoon. That document, however, did not account for Trump's liabilities, which the 1990 Forbes story estimated added up to about $3.2 billion.

"If our estimates are substantially correct — and we think they are generous — Donald Trump's current net worth is about $ 500 million," the story read. "Does Trump command an impressive pile of assets? Yes. Do his assets exceed his debts by a comfortable margin? That's a different question."

The magazine continued with an even more damning indictment of the state of Trump's finances, suggesting that he owed about $180 million a year in interest, but that his properties only yielded $140 million a year in cash flow.

"That leaves Trump bleeding at the rate of at least $40 million a year, $3 million a month, $770,000 a week," Forbes said.

As he did on Tuesday, Trump responded to the 1990 article by accusing the magazine of carrying out a "personal vendetta."

Their evaluation of his wealth, he argued in a syndicated column published that October, was related to his failure to attend the "much-ballyhooed 70th birthday party" of late editor Malcolm Forbes in Morocco in 1989, a move he said he made because Forbes was "a hypocrite who favored those who advertised in his magazine and tried, with surprising viciousness, to punish those who didn't."

Trump also explained that he "saw a double standard" in how Forbes "lived openly as a homosexual — which he had every right to do — but expected the media and his famous friends to cover for him."

"Malcolm and the Forbes family no doubt sensed my coolness toward them, and for that reason and also because I never advertised much in Forbes magazine, they were not great admirers of Donald Trump," wrote Donald Trump.

Though Malcolm Forbes has been dead for more than 15 years, Trump suggested in Tuesday's article that the vendetta lives on. Asked whether he thinks Forbes, which says it devoted "unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune" for the story, assesses his net worth differently from how it assesses those of other real estate tycoons, Trump answered, "Yes, I do. Yes, I do."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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