Inside Donald Trump's '91 Apology for Pretending to Be His Own Spokesman – How Marla Maples Shamed Him Into Fessing Up
Former PEOPLE reporter Sue Carswell remembers Trump's apology, believes he made it news again by leaking audiotape
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump flatly denied Friday that he posed as his own spokesman during a June 26, 1991, phone call to then-PEOPLE reporter Sue Carswell – a phone interview that Carswell taped at the time. When she played the recording for friends of Trump and his then-girlfriend, Marla Maples, they were unanimous: the voice was Trump’s own, a ruse that Carswell noted in her story for the July 8, 1991, issue of PEOPLE.
By the time PEOPLE was putting its July 22, 1991, issue together, Trump had called Carswell to confess that he was, in fact, the so-called John Miller who called a couple weeks earlier. ‘I’m very sorry,’ he told the reporter and invited her and a colleague out on the town to make amends.
Now that Trump is the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, audio of Trump’s admitted impersonation of a fake spokesman using the name John Miller surfaced at The Washington Post last week. Carswell says she didn’t give it to the newspaper and she suspects Trump himself leaked the recording. His Friday denial – ‘It was not me on the phone,’ he said on the Today show – raised questions of his truthfulness, so PEOPLE revisited the 1991 episode with Carswell. This is her story.
Back in 1991, when I was covering Donald Trump for PEOPLE, I placed a call to his office regarding a New York Post story claiming that he had dumped his then-girlfriend, Marla Maples, for singer-songwriter Carla Bruni. Shortly afterwards, a man who introduced himself as John Miller called me back and said he was from Trump’s office.
At the time, Trump had given Maples what she thought was an engagement ring. But on the phone, Miller told me that Trump actually meant the gift as a friendship ring. He added that Trump was constantly being approached by all sorts of women, including Madonna and Kim Basinger.
Miller went on to make a number of outrageous comments. For instance, he told me that whoever Trump ends up settling down with “will be a lucky woman indeed.” The comments seemed even stranger because Miller’s voice sounded exactly like Donald Trump’s. I thought, “How convenient,” and tried asking him more personal questions, like where he worked last. He responded vaguely, telling me, “I’ve been at a couple places.” When I finally told Miller that he sounded just like his client, he changed the subject. And when I later played the tape for Maples, who had gone into hiding at Kathie Lee Gifford’s house, she also recognized the voice as Trump’s and broke down in tears.
About two weeks later, Trump called me back and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, that was a joke gone awry.” Maples, who had since reconciled with Trump, made him apologize for disrespecting the magazine and for posing as his own spokesperson. PEOPLE ran a story revealing the apology, and Trump actually invited me and a friend to join him and Maples for a night out on the town.
My friend and former PEOPLE colleague Karen Schneider and I ended up meeting Trump and Maples out at some swanky nightclub. I don’t remember much from the evening – it was 25 years ago – but Trump and Maples, who were teetotalers, stayed for about 15 minutes before making their exit. He offered to have the black stretch limo we arrived in take us home when we were ready, and then he and Maples left.
I spoke to him again years later for Ivana Trump’s book For Love Alone, but he never brought up the incident and we never spoke about it again. Obviously this was not as big of a story then as it is now with him running for president.
Since I did not duplicate my tape for anyone and the interview was between me and Trump only, only two people could have had a tape and I know for sure mine is lost or in my closet below a bunch of stuff. And so Trump, I think, released it for his own warped reasons or for publicity. It was never in the possession of anyone else.
Schneider, the former PEOPLE editor who is now a writer and mom of two in Minnesota, also recalls that 1991 night out after Trump confessed and apologized:
I remember sitting in the limo with Donald Trump and he was in the middle of one seat, between me and Marla, and he kept talking to me about how women find him so attractive and how attracted women are to him and he said, “Women are so attracted to me and it’s so difficult” but he was was not hitting on me and he had no interest in me other than as a reflection of how fabulous he was. And he wanted to me to acknowledge how fabulous he was and he wanted me to validate how difficult it was to be him having to fight off so many women.
I remember him telling me how difficult it was, having to deal with so many women who were so attracted to him. I was embarrassed because I was worried Marla, right on the other side of him, would hear this and so I reversed my normal reporter’s instinct, which would have been to draw him out, dig deeper. Instead, I tried to quickly acknowledge what he said, it was clear Donald expected me and needed me to agree with him. And I didn’t even dare make a joke about it, call him on his bulls t, because he had NO sense of humor, at all. So I smiled and nodded and tried to change the subject and spend what seemed like a very long drive staring awkwardly out the window.
He liked the press and this was in a time when celebrities did not always talk to us willingly and no one had social media. There was a sense of distance and having to negotiate terms regarding access. Dealing with him was the opposite and it was a little like a journalist’s Disneyland, and it was exciting and surreal
As for Marla and the tapes, which happened before the limo ride, it felt like we were in high school and they were the It Couple, the quarterback and the cheerleader – remember, they were the subject of intense national interest at the time – and we found out he was hitting on so many other girls in the class and everyone knew it but her.
Sue did struggle with the decision [to tell Maples and let her listen to the recorded call] and she felt awful when Marla started crying when she heard this guy who called himself John Miller who was clearly Donald saying the ring he gave her wasn’t an engagement ring. Of course, they patched things up and eventually got married, and Marla had a very friendly relationship with the magazine. She was a very sweet thing who definitely seemed in over her head.