The president’s trip to Paris this week has raised questions about the existence of “Jim,” a City-of-Light-loving friend whom Trump referenced repeatedly on the campaign trail and who seemed to serve as a cautionary tale that leaders must be tough on terrorism or risk scaring off tourists.
According to Trump, Jim used to visit Paris every year but he doesn’t go anymore because he came to believe that “Paris is no longer Paris.”
Trump shared Jim’s story in a high-profile speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland in February.
Jim, whom Trump described as “a very, very substantial guy,” “loves the City of Lights, he loves Paris.”
“For years, every year during the summer, he would go to Paris,” Trump said. “It was automatic, with his wife and his family.”
One day Trump asked Jim: “How’s Paris doing?”
” ‘Paris?’ ” Jim replied, according to Trump. ” ‘I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.’ ”
Since Trump took office, interest in Jim’s identity — or lack thereof — has grown, with The New Yorker trying to track down the mystery Francophile in March. After reaching out to a handful of famous Jims — and apparently growing so desperate that she even considered James Comey as a possibility (“Does anybody know if he goes by Jim?”) — reporter Lauren Collins came up empty-handed.
The AP tried again this week, amid Trump’s trip to Paris. No dice.
“Whether Jim exists is unclear,” the AP’s Vivian Salama reports. “Trump has never given his last name. The White House has not responded to a request for comment about who Jim is or whether he will be on the trip.”
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It wouldn’t be the first time Trump fabricated a friend.
In 1991, PEOPLE outed Trump for posing as his own publicist under the name John Miller. Then-PEOPLE reporter Sue Carswell recorded her phone conversation with “Miller,” a.k.a. Trump, in which he claimed Madonna “wanted to go out with him” and bragged about breaking up with his then-live-in girlfriend Marla Maples for the Italian model and former first lady of France Carla Bruni (who later denied any connection to Trump).
The Washington Post resurfaced the recording in May 2016, when the presidential campaign was in full swing, and reported that Trump regularly gave interviews in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s while posing as a spokesman alternatively named John Miller or John Barron.
Last year, Trump adamantly denied ever posing as his own spokesperson. But in 1991, he admitted to PEOPLE that he did in fact masquerade as John Miller, claiming it was a joke that went awry.
While the alleged “Jim” is staying far away from Paris these days, Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, braved it out to celebrate Bastille Day in the City of Light at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The first couple touched down in Paris early Thursday, apparently sans Jim, and Trump soon made headlines for his awkward handshake with France’s first lady, Brigitte Macron, as well as his unsolicited commentary on her appearance.
Melania Trump later visited Necker Hospital for children, where she spent time with six little patients, who gifted her a French copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Meanwhile, Macron and Trump held a joint press conference and Trump was asked about his friend Jim. His answer shed no new light on the subject.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Eli Stokols noted that Trump called France a “spectacular country” in his remarks. “I guess Paris is Paris again,” Stokols tweeted.
Quipped journalist Yashar Ali in response: ” ‘Jim’ will be so happy.”