Last week, the Washington Post published a decades-old recording of Donald Trump catfishing a reporter, identifying himself as a publicist named “John Miller” and bragging about Trump’s—that is to say, his own—successes with women. How did the Post get access to the tape?
It’s long been public knowledge that Trump used to pose as his own publicist during phone interviews, assuming the names John Miller and John Baron to talk up his own accomplishments without appearing to be self-aggrandizing. Now that the Post has published a recording of Trump apparently using the routine on a People magazine reporter named Sue Carswell in 1991, we no longer have to imagine what it sounds like:It sounds weird as hell.
Post reporters Marc Fisher and Will Hobson did not identify the source of the tape, but indicated that it may have come from an associate of Carswell’s. “Carswell shared the microcassette of the call with the source shortly after the interview,” they wrote, and the source shared it with them under the condition of anonymity.
However, in an interview with People.com published today, Carswell said she believed that Trump leaked it himself. “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,” Carswell is quoted as saying. “And so Trump, I think, released it for his own warped reasons or for publicity. It was never in the possession of anyone else.”
Carswell’s quote and the line published in the Post don’t directly contradict each other, technically speaking. Carswell only said that she didn’t duplicate the tape, and the Post’s verbiage leaves open the possibility that their source was in possession of the original copy.
But the idea that Trump himself is the leaker seems unlikely. Despite having previously admitted in court to occasionally using the name John Miller, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has since denied that it is his voice on the Carswell call, and has studiously avoided Post reporters’ attempts to get him talking about it on the record. If Trump wanted the recording out there as part of some perverse publicity ploy, he’s doing a great job of making it look like he didn’t. (Of course, as this very story demonstrates, “John Miller” has done stranger things in the name of boosting his public profile, so the self-leaking theory shouldn’t be off the table entirely.)
We’ve reached out to Carswell about the apparent discrepancy and will update this post if she responds. In the meantime, if you know anything about Donald Trump’s secret identity—or if you’re a journalist with another John Miller/Baron tape—email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update (3:30 p.m.): Reached by telephone, Carswell said that she did not share her original copy of the Trump/Miller interview tape or make a duplicate. “Never in my career as a reporter have I duplicated tapes or gave them to people. That tape is still in my possession. I either threw it away when I was moving apartments, or it’s in my closet underneath all this stuff I have,” she said.
Carswell reiterated her theory that Trump is leaker, suggesting that he may have planted the story to distract from more substantiative criticisms of his candidacy, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reluctance to endorse him for president or the call for Trump to release his tax returns.
In an interview with the Mike O’Meara Show podcast, however, Marc Fisher of the Washington Post denied that Trump was the leaker. “I can categorically deny that. That is utterly absurd. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Why would he hand out a recording that makes him appear to be dishonest, in which he sounds somewhat disturbed?” Miller said when O’Meara asked him whether the candidate might be the source of the tape. He added that an “old friend from college” had tipped him off to the existence of the tape.
“No, [Trump] wasn’t” the source of the tape, Fisher wrote to Gawker in an email. “Nor were Hillary Clinton, Oliver Stone, or David Duke.”
Carswell said that when Fisher and Hobson reached out to her for the story, they told her that their source asked them to make sure she approved of them publishing the tape before they did so, but did not divulge any further information about the source’s identity.
“I was fine with it,” Carswell said. “I’m glad that the story is out there.”