Trump: D’Oh, No NDA!

The 1996 reigning Miss Universe, Alicia Machado of Venezuela, joins in the opening number during the 1997 Miss Universe Pageant in Miami Beach Friday, May 16, 1997. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)
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Is Donald Trump’s downfall with Alicia Machado tied to not having her shackled with the standard Trump non-disclosure agreement? TPM Reader GP writes in with what seems like some pretty solid inferences about the backstory of Trump’s relationship with Machado, which has been bad and public for 20 years.

Since Trump is so notorious and public about his aggressive use of NDAs and non-disparagement agreements in all his businesses, it would stand to reason that he used them as owner of the Miss Universe pageant too. But we don’t have to speculate. As GP notes, in 2013 Trump secured a $5 million judgment against a former Miss Universe contestant who publicly claimed the contest was rigged.

From the AP

In 2013, Trump’s Miss Universe pageant sought and won a $5 million judgment against a former contestant, accusing her of disparaging the event by claiming it was rigged. The judgment hung on the fine print of the contestant contract, which barred participants from doing or saying anything that would bring “public disrepute, ridicule, contempt or scandal or might otherwise reflect unfavorably” on Trump or a list of businesses associated with the pageant.

So why hasn’t Trump used the same legal cudgel to silence Machado? Here’s where it gets interesting, with a detail I had not been aware of. Machado was not crowned on Trump’s watch. She was the reigning Miss Universe when he purchased the pageant.

From one of Trump’s many autobiographies

“The [1997 Miss Universe] pageant in Miami Beach, my first as owner, was a huge success. We’d sold out the house; it was a mob scene. From my position offstage, I was able to glance up to the greenroom occasionally. I could just see Alicia Machado, the current Miss Universe, sitting there plumply. God, what problems I had with this woman. First, she wins. Second, she gains fifty pounds. Third, I urge the committee not to fire her. Fourth, I go to the gym with her, in a show of support. Final act: She trashes me in The Washington Post — after I stood by her the entire time. What’s wrong with this picture? Anyway, the best part about the evening was the knowledge that next year, she would no longer be Miss Universe.” (“Trump: The Art of the Comeback”)

I would imagine that it’s quite possible that Machado agreed to certain confidences in her contract. But it seems quite plausible that the terms contestants had to swear to before Trump took over weren’t as aggressive and exacting as the ones Trump had in place by the time he won his suit against the other contestant in 2013. Machado has been enough of a thorn in Trump’s side that it seems unlikely that he wouldn’t have taken legal action against her if he could.

Indeed, so far there seems to be only one other Miss Universe contestant coming forward (Jodie Seal, Miss Australia) with similar claims to Machado’s – and very notably, she was also a contestant in the 1996 pageant. In other words, like Machado, she was in the one pageant cycle with contestants who had to deal with Trump but came in under contracts that preceded Trump.

Maybe this is just a coincidence. But that seems unlikely. It also suggests that other Miss Universe contestants with similar stories – he owned the pageant for almost 20 years, after all – are being muzzled by Trump’s notoriously aggressive NDAs.

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