An early October 2016 audio leak of Donald Trump's making lewd comments about women became a huge political controversy, and several subsequent articles suggested a callous Trump divorced his first wife, Ivana, wholly or in part because he didn't like her breast implants.
A 1 October 2016 piece published in the Economist (its claim reiterated by the Washington Post) held that:
Until this year, a conservative record on questions of faith and personal morality was a prerequisite for winning the Republican nomination. During the 2012 primaries there was speculation about whether Mr Romney’s quiet Mormon faith would put off such values voters. In 2016 this has all been erased. When Mr Trump divorced the first of his three wives, Ivana, he let the New York tabloids know that one reason for the separation was that her breast implants felt all wrong.
The claim was not new in October 2016. In September and March 2016 respectively, the Atlantic and the National Review had referenced details of Trump's purported leaking lewd criticism of his then-wife's enhancements to "New York tabloids":
The people closest to Trump have painful experience with this same quality. In September 1990, Marie Brenner wrote at length in Vanity Fair about how the billionaire humiliated Ivana Trump.
Conservative writer Mona Charen reflected on the same era in National Review:
I first became aware of Donald Trump when he chose to make cheating on his first wife front-page news. Donald and Ivana Trump broke up over the course of months. Not that divorce is shocking, mind you. Among the glitterati marriage seems more unusual. Nor is infidelity exactly novel.
But it requires a particular breed of lowlife to advertise the sexual superiority of one’s mistress over the mother of one’s children. That was Trump’s style. He leaked stories to the New York tabloids about Ivana’s breast implants — they didn’t feel right. Marla Maples, by contrast, suited him better. She, proving her suitability for the man she was eager to steal from his family, told the papers that her encounters with the mogul were “the best sex I’ve ever had.” It wasn’t just Donald Trump’s betrayal that caught my eye, nor just the tawdriness — it was the cruelty.
The rumor has taken several forms. For example, a profile of Ivana Trump published in March 2016 maintained that her former husband had insulted her breasts while he was speaking to a reporter:
But life with The Donald did not improve, and it is agonizing to imagine that final, grim year when he was otherwise engaged and she was alone with the perfect new breasts he paid for but told a reporter he would never touch. What did she do in the small hours? Did she pace her triplex’s onyx floors or sit rigid in a Queen Anne chair, staring blankly at the handpainted, gold-leafed ceiling?
And back in 1990, Vanity Fair's coverage of the then-recent Trump split told a story not dissimilar from the one circulating more than a quarter-century later:
Trump seemed extraordinarily concerned that [Ivana] sign the [nuptial agreement] papers, perhaps because an Atlantic City photographer was threatening to blackmail him with photos he had taken of him and Marla Maples ... The tactics he used in business he now brought home. “Donald began calling Ivana and screaming all the time: ‘You don’t know what you are doing!’ ” one of Ivana’s top assistants told me. “When Ivana would hang up the phone, I would say, ‘How can you put up with this?’ and Ivana would say, ‘Because Donald is right.’ ” He began belittling her: “That dress is terrible.” “You’re showing too much cleavage.” “You never spend enough time with the children.” “Who would touch those plastic breasts?” Ivana told her friends that Donald had stopped sleeping with her. She blamed herself. “I think it was Donald’s master plan to get rid of Ivana in Atlantic City,” one of her assistants told me. “By then, Marla Maples was in a suite at the Trump Regency. Atlantic City was to be their playground.”
Ultimately, the oft-repeated claim was two-fold: in part, it maintained that Trump was anywhere between recoiling from and publicly leaking disparaging comments about his own wife's augmented breasts to "the New York tabloids." The second layer of the rumor held Trump separated from Ivana because her breasts were "all wrong." In some versions, Trump is merely quoted as making the off-color remarks with no mention of how that information was obtained. In others, Trump is said to have openly made the comments in an "interview" with a tabloid. And in 2016, Trump's hostility at Ivana was escalated in the retelling to suggest he "leaked" the claim to the media, and split with her in part because of her breast implants.
Seemingly missing from all iterations of this rumor about Ivana Trump's breast implants (and her ex-husband's opinion of them) are the basic who, what, when, where, and why aspects. The 1990 Vanity Fair did not allude to any source for the claim Trump had criticized "those plastic breasts," merely including the line among several others describing the alleged mistreatment Mrs. Trump endured. Had the comments been contemporaneously published by any news outlets, that information likely would have been included in the Vanity Fair piece to bolster the impact and credibility of the sourceless anecdote.
The claim has since skittered about like tumbleweeds, eventually attracting the details that Trump referenced Ivana's "plastic breasts" in an interview, then that he leaked the criticism to the media (for unknown reasons), then that he divorced Ivana over breast implants of which he did not approve.
Although the rumor has circulated in various forms since 1990, we have been unable to locate any published interview in which Trump made any such comments, nor any tabloid material from around 1990 featuring criticism (by anyone) of Ivana Trump's implants.
It's certainly possible that some version of the rumor may be true, but we haven't unearthed any proof that Donald Trump ever directly, indirectly, or privately made the comments attributed to him about Ivana Trump's breast implants, nor that he divorced her because of aesthetic differences about their suitability.