New York Times reporter Timothy O'Brien's 2005 book TrumpNation took a skeptical look at Donald Trump and his empire, asserting that Trump is worth between $150 million and $200 million -- a small fraction of the $5 billion net worth Trump claims.
Donald Trump was none too pleased. In fact, he sued O'Brien for defamation, and The Wall Street Journal has published (subscription required) some excerpts from the depositions of Mr. Trump -- and they don't make him look too good. Some choice clips and my belittling commentary:
My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feeling," he told lawyers in the December 2007 deposition.
If your net worth depends on something as abstract as the emotional state of the world's biggest narcissist, how can you possibly sue someone for misstating it? Was the problem that Trump was in a good mood when he read O'Brien's book, and therefore disagreed with the estimates? Perhaps there wouldn't have been a lawsuit if Trump had been feeling pessimistic when he came across O'Brien's findings.
He alleged damage to his reputation that caused him to lose out on future deals in locales from Philadelphia to Kiev.
The book came out in 2005 -- near the height of the real estate boom. There's a good chance that it's just as well that Trump missed out on any deals he might have missed out on. He should be sending Mr. O'Brien bonuses, not subpoenas.
Mr. Trump said Sunday that Mr. O'Brien, author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald," will "wish he never heard of that Goddamn book" and predicted that "the publishing company will pay me hundreds of millions of dollars" as a result of the suit.
Defamation lawsuits very, very rarely lead to any substantial damages -- certainly not in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the case were to go to trial -- I predict a settlement that involves no cash changing hands and no admission of guilt, but is confidential so Trump can claim victory -- and even if Trump does win a jury trial, he could very well be awarded $1 because damages are so hard to prove in these things, especially when Trump's claim is that he didn't get to participate in some real estate deals at the height of a bubble.
The deposition documents also suggest a pattern of -- I know, it's shocking -- exaggerations and outright lies on Mr. Trump's part: telling the media that one project was "largely owned by him" when in reality it was just a licensing deal; claiming that a Las Vegas condo project was sold out when in reality deposits had only been collected on 900 of the 1,282 units. Trump said the latter was "not a lie" because he was holding on to the remaining units as an investment, making him a buyer of his own inventory. Hey, Donald, Bernie Madoff called and he wants his ideas back.
From the brief snippets published by the WSJ, an image of Trump as a grandiose chronic exaggerator detached from reality emerges -- although anyone who has followed his career probably already had that figured out.
What's so bizarre is this: When you're full of crap and someone calls you on it, why would you expose yourself to further humiliation by filing a lawsuit?