The Washington Post last week published an old story about how Donald Trump used to pretend to be his own publicist in talking himself up to the media. This is something that People magazine first reported many years ago, and Trump admitted to doing it at the time. He has spent the past several days denying it, flat out lying. Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself:
The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”
A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.
In 1991, Sue Carswell, a reporter at People magazine, called Trump’s office seeking an interview with the developer. She had just been assigned to cover the soap opera surrounding the end of Trump’s 12-year marriage to Ivana, his budding relationship with the model Marla Maples and his rumored affairs with any number of celebrities who regularly appeared on the gossip pages of the New York newspapers.
Within five minutes, Carswell got a return call from Trump’s publicist, a man named John Miller, who immediately jumped into a startlingly frank and detailed explanation of why Trump dumped Maples for the Italian model Carla Bruni. “He really didn’t want to make a commitment,” Miller said. “He’s coming out of a marriage, and he’s starting to do tremendously well financially.”
Miller turned out to be a remarkably forthcoming source — a spokesman with rare insight into the private thoughts and feelings of his client. “Have you met him?” Miller asked the reporter. “He’s a good guy, and he’s not going to hurt anybody. . . . He treated his wife well and . . . he will treat Marla well.”
Some reporters found the calls from Miller or Barron disturbing or even creepy; others thought they were just examples of Trump being playful. Today, as the presumptive Republican nominee for president faces questions about his attitudes toward women, what stands out to some who received those calls is Trump’s characterization of women whom he portrayed as drawn to him sexually.
“Actresses,” Miller said in the call to Carswell, “just call to see if they can go out with him and things.” Madonna “wanted to go out with him.” And Trump’s alter ego boasted that in addition to living with Maples, Trump had “three other girlfriends.”
Miller was consistent about referring to Trump as “he,” but at one point, when asked how important Bruni was in Trump’s busy love life, the spokesman said, “I think it’s somebody that — you know, she’s beautiful. I saw her once, quickly, and beautiful . . . ” and then he quickly pivoted back into talking about Trump — then a 44-year-old father of three — in the third person.
In 1990, Trump testified in a court case that “I believe on occasion I used that name.”
In a phone call to NBC’s “Today” program Friday morning after this article appeared online, Trump denied that he was John Miller. “No, I don’t think it — I don’t know anything about it. You’re telling me about it for the first time and it doesn’t sound like my voice at all,” he said. “I have many, many people that are trying to imitate my voice and then you can imagine that, and this sounds like one of the scams, one of the many scams — doesn’t sound like me.” Later, he was more definitive: “It was not me on the phone. And it doesn’t sound like me on the phone, I will tell you that, and it was not me on the phone. And when was this? Twenty-five years ago?”
Then, Friday afternoon, Washington Post reporters who were 44 minutes into a phone interview with Trump about his finances asked him a question about Miller: “Did you ever employ someone named John Miller as a spokesperson?”
The phone went silent, then dead. Doh!
* * *
Trump has never been terribly adamant about denying that he often made calls to reporters posing as someone else. From his earliest years in business, he occasionally called reporters using the name “John Barron.”
A “John Baron,” described as a “vice-president of the Trump organization,” appeared in a front-page New York Times article as early as 1980, defending Trump’s decision to destroy sculptures on the facade of the Bonwit Teller department store building, the Fifth Avenue landmark he was demolishing to make way for his Trump Tower. Barron was quoted variously as a “Trump spokesman,” “Trump executive” or “Trump representative” in New York magazine, The Washington Post and other publications.
Trump’s fascination with the name “Barron” persisted for decades. When he was seeing Maples while still married to Ivana, he sometimes used the code name “the Baron” when he left messages for her. In 2004, when Trump commissioned a dramatic TV series based on the life of a New York real estate mogul like him, his only request to the writer was to name the main character “Barron.” And when Trump and his third wife, Melania, had a son, they named him Barron.
In the 1991 recording, Miller sounded quite at ease regaling the reporter with tales of Trump hanging out with Madonna at a ball at the Plaza Hotel, which he owned at the time. Asked about the rumored Madonna-Trump friendship, Miller, unlike every other PR man on the planet, neither batted the question away nor gave it short shrift. Rather, he said, “Do you have a second?”
Carswell, the reporter, sounded a bit startled: “Yeah, obviously,” she replied.
Whereupon Miller offered a detailed account of the Trump encounter with Madonna, who “came in a beautiful evening gown and combat boots.” The PR man assured the reporter that nothing untoward occurred: “He’s got zero interest that night.”
Miller also revealed to Carswell why Trump seemed to relish any and all media coverage, even the most critical. “I can tell you that he didn’t care if he got bad PR until he got his divorce finished,” Miller said. The more the press wrote about Trump’s money troubles, the greater advantage he would have in negotiations toward a financial settlement with his then-estranged wife, Ivana. Then, “once his divorce is finished,” Miller said, you would see stories about how Trump was “doing well financially and he’s doing well in every other way.”
Carswell this week recalled that she immediately recognized something familiar in the Queens accent of Trump’s new publicist. She thought, “It’s so weird that Donald hired someone who sounds just like him.” After the 20-minute interview, she walked down the hall to play the tape to co-workers, who identified Trump’s voice. Carswell then called Cindy Adams, the longtime New York Post gossip columnist who had been close to Trump since the early 1970s. Adams immediately identified the voice as Trump’s.
“Oh, that’s Donald,” Carswell recalled Adams saying. “What is he doing?”
Then Carswell played the tape for Maples, who confirmed it was Trump and burst into tears as she heard Miller deny that a ring Trump gave her implied any intent to marry her.
Carswell, now a reporter-researcher at Vanity Fair, said the tape cuts off mid-interview, leaving out the part in which Miller said that actress Kim Basinger had been trying to date Trump. Hearing the tape for the first time in decades, Carswell said, “This was so farcical, that he pretended to be his own publicist. Here was this so-called billion-dollar real estate mogul, and he can’t hire his own publicist. It also said something about the control he wanted to keep of the news cycle flowing with this story, and I can’t believe he thought he’d get away with it.”
* * *
From the start of his career as a builder in New York, Trump worked the press. He believed in carrots and sticks, showering reporters with praise, then pivoting to a threat to sue them if they wrote something he considered inaccurate. He often said that all publicity, good or bad, was good for his business.
He made himself available to reporters at nearly any time, for hours on end. And he called them, too, to promote his own projects, but also with juicy bits of gossip.
“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” Trump wrote in “The Art of the Deal,” his bestseller. “The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
Trump did not describe using false identities to promote his brand, but he did write about why he strays from the strict truth: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
Donald Trump is the modern day P.T. Barnum, only creepier.
David Cay Johnston adds at The National Memo, Trump Used His Aliases For Much More — And Worse — Than Gossip:
Donald Trump told a real whopper this week — and we’ve got fresh proof right here.
What we can show is that when Donald Trump made deceptive phone calls over decades — posing as a Trump Organization vice president named “John Miller” or “John Barron” — he was not always puffing up his reputation as a philandering ladies’ man. In his fictional identities, Trump could also be quite threatening, as revealed in the brief clip below from Trump: What’s The Deal? — a documentary film that he successfully suppressed for 25 years with threats of litigation.
The story erupted Thursday when The Washington Post put online a recording of Trump posing as “John Miller,” in a 1991 interview with People magazine reporter Sue Carswell. The fictitious “Miller” described himself as a newly hired Trump Organization publicist for the company boss.
Carswell was reporting a story about Trump’s pending divorce from his first wife, Ivana, and whether he planned to marry his longtime mistress, Marla Maples. Their relationship was really hot news at the time, at least in the tabloid newspapers and the tabloid television shows that Trump follows closely whenever they mention him, his self-proclaimed sexual desirability, and the notion that the world’s most gorgeous women cannot resist him.
Even though “John Miller” told Carswell that he was brand new on the job he gave lengthy, detailed and nuanced observations on Trump’s emotional state, various women in his life and whether he was ready to commit to another marriage. “Miller” must have been a really fast study. No publicist I have known in the past 49 years would dare to mention such intimate details about a brand new boss, much less so with the bold authority displayed by “John Miller.”
The morning after the Post story was posted online Trump called the NBC Today show to deny posing as “Miller.” He insisted – emphatically, repeatedly and unequivocally –that his voice was not on the recording. He even offered a conspiracy theory, suggesting it was one of many Trump impersonators trying to harm his reputation.
Asked by host Savannah Guthrie about news reports galore in the early 1990s that Trump routinely planted stories with journalists who received calls from “John Miller” or “John Barron,” Trump replied:
“No, and it was not me on the phone – it was not me on the phone. And it doesn’t sound like me on the phone, I will tell you that, and it was not me on the phone.” It was him, of course.
Trump: What’s The Deal recounts a wide variety of Trump lies, exaggerations, and manipulations, but the misconduct of greatest interest to voters may be his threatening litigation in a scheme to deny payment to about 200 illegal Polish immigrants tearing down the old Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue (an act of architectural vandalism). Many of the men lacked hardhats or face masks, used sledge hammers rather than power tools, had to pull out live electric wires with their bare hands, in a building laced with asbestos — all in blatant violation of worker safety laws.
A lawyer trying to get the workers paid the meager $4 to $6 per hour that Trump owed them received a bullying telephone call from one “John Barron,” as recounted in the film:
Narrator: Chapter Six. [Voiceover various images of Trump Tower and Trump]
Threaten the lawyer that the Polish illegals hired after your cheap contractor defaults on paying them. Make sure that the threats are untraceable, in case the guy isn’t scared off.
Interview On Camera: John Szabo (lawyer for Polish workers):
“Mr. Barron had told me in the one telephone conversation that I had with him, that Donald Trump was upset because I was ruining his credit, reputation by filing the mechanics liens [legal action intended to enforce payment]. And Mr. Trump was thinking of filing a personal lawsuit against me for $100 million for defaming his, uh…reputation.”
Narrator: It turned out that Mr. Barron was Donald Trump’s favorite alias.
When this was revealed Trump said, “What of it? Ernest Hemingway used a pen name, didn’t he?”
You can now view the entire 80-minute documentary, which is a superb examination of Trump’s mendacity and manipulation of journalists and politicians. It’s available for $9.99 on iTunes. If any movie chain had the backbone to show the film each seat would cost at least that much. But for the price of one theater ticket and a few beers, you can have a party, inviting Trump fans and detractors to watch the film and discuss what it reveals.
Here’s an idea: if NBC/MSNBC are going to allow Donald Trump to go on their programs and to lie to them and the electorate unchallenged, then NBC/MSNBC have an obligation to air this documentary as a public service to demonstrate that the network is not in the bag for Trump.
As for how we know that Trump lied to Savannah Guthrie, that’s beyond dispute. He admitted under oath in the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Polish workers that he had used the name John Barron, which resulted in a spate of news stories. In the aftermath Trump continued his deception, but using the name “John Miller.”
Later he admitted that “Miller” was a phony name, too. He confessed the truth to People magazine, two weeks after its initial story by Sue Carswell made fun of him for trying to pass himself off as “John Miller.”
Following a lengthy trial in federal court, the real Donald Trump was found to have engaged in a conspiracy to cheat the Polish workers. The judge who decided the case found Trump liable for pay and fringe benefits and also found that his testimony — that he was unaware of what was going on during the demolition phase on Trump Tower — was not credible. Not only was he photographed at the site, but his temporary office across Fifth Avenue had a picture window view so he could observe the whole process of tearing down Bonwit’s and putting up his eponymous tower.
Ultimately the case was settled with a sealed agreement that neither side could discuss. But the record shows that what Trump denied was not just a juvenile prank, but part of a complex and lengthy stealth campaign by Trump to sell and protect himself in ways he was unwilling to do honestly.
Whether it’s the story planted on the cover of the New York Post with Marla Maples supposedly saying sex with Trump was the best ever (a quote she later denied ever uttering), his claims of multi-billionaire net worth when he could not pay his bills, or any other tall tale that puffed up the Trump name — or his ongoing efforts to suppress any fact that might tarnish his image — we now possess an important insight into the Trump mentality.
The man who wants us to give him the nuclear launch codes behaves like a child when he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, crumbs all over his face. He denies the undeniable. And like a four year-old toddler, he thinks Americans are so gullible that they will believe him.
When Trump shifts his story and says he forgot, as he probably will, remember this: Last fall, he bragged that he has “the world’s greatest memory.”
This megalomaniac narcissist is a sociopath liar. And Donald Trump is on his way to being the GOP nominee.