UPDATE: After BuzzFeed News published this story, we heard from a fifth contestant who remembered Trump visiting the dressing room.
Four women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant said Donald Trump walked into the dressing room while contestants — some as young as 15 — were changing.
“I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,’” said Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA.
Trump, she recalled, said something like, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”
Three other women, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting engulfed in a media firestorm, also remembered Trump entering the dressing room while girls were changing. Two of them said the girls rushed to cover their bodies, with one calling it “shocking” and “creepy.” The third said she was clothed and introduced herself to Trump.
Eleven of that year’s contestants reached by BuzzFeed News did not recall seeing Trump in the dressing room. Some said they do not believe he could have been there.
Discussion of Trump entering the room arose among the women themselves last weekend in a private Facebook group after BuzzFeed News reported that a contestant in an adult pageant said Trump had walked into the changing room when “we were all naked.” The Facebook group is open only to some former contestants in the 1997 pageant, according to several women who are in it and who described the exchange about Trump to BuzzFeed News.
Altogether, BuzzFeed News attempted to contact 49 of the 51 contestants at that pageant. Thirty-four declined to talk or could not be reached. Of the 15 women who were interviewed, none accused Trump of saying anything sexually explicit or of making physical contact in the dressing room.
Ever since the release last week of a 2005 tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy” and said he “did try and fuck” a married woman, his campaign has been reeling. Trump dismissed his comments on the tape as “locker room talk,” but it has put his treatment of women under intense focus.
Trump, who owned the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants from 1996 until last year, has publicly bragged about invading beauty queen dressing rooms, calling it one of his prerogatives of ownership.
“I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed,” Trump told Howard Stern in recordings released Saturday by CNN. “No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. ... ‘Is everyone OK?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody OK?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”
Until now it was never alleged that this behavior extended to the teen pageant, in which contestants can be as old as 19 or as young as 14.
The Trump campaign and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. The Miss Universe Organization, which runs Miss Teen USA, declined to comment.
The 1997 teen pageant — Trump’s first as owner — was held on South Padre Island, Texas. His daughter Ivanka Trump, then 15 years old, served as co-host.
The dressing room was described by multiple contestants as one large, long, open space with 51 stations, one for each contestant, lined up against the walls. Cutting through the middle of the room were racks of clothing. Girls did not have individual partitions shielding their station from the rest of the space, and it was often bustling with stylists, pageant officials, and other crew members coming and going.
Of the 11 women who said they don’t remember Trump coming into the changing room, some said it was possible that it happened while they weren’t in the room or that they didn’t notice. But most were dubious or dismissed the possibility out of hand.
“There were so many chaperones I can’t even fathom” him doing so, said Jessica Granata, the former Miss Massachusetts Teen USA. “It was very secure.”
Allison Bowman, former Miss Wisconsin Teen USA, cast doubt on whether it happened. “These were teenage girls,” Bowman said. “If anything inappropriate had gone on, the gossip would have flown.”
“There was way too much security,” said Crystal Hughes, the former Miss Maine Teen USA. “If that was something he did, then everybody would have noticed.”
Asked why some of her fellow contestants said he did enter the changing room, Hughes responded, “They’re probably lying because they are voting for Hillary Clinton.”
“I don’t support either” Trump or Clinton, said Billado, the former Miss Vermont. Of the other three who remember Trump coming into the dressing room, one said she was also undecided but would not vote for Trump, and another said she’s a Democrat. A third said she was not voting for Trump and wouldn’t say more because “this is not about politics.” But, she added, “When he started running for president, that is one of the first things I thought about: Oh, gross, this guy walked in on us in the pageant.” Girls were “just scrambling to grab stuff,” she said, “whatever garments they had.”
One of the other women who asked to be anonymous, who was 17, said, “At the time, you’re a teenager, you’re intimidated — it’s Donald Trump, he runs the pageant.” And it felt, she said, like “it was his given right” to enter the dressing rooms “because he owned the pageant.”
She added, “We were all very young, but even at the time, it caught us funny.” Now, “as an adult and as a mother,” she said she finds it “absolutely inappropriate.”
The third woman who asked to be anonymous was 15 at the time and said she was fully dressed and doing her makeup when Trump walked in. “I was like, ‘Hi, my name is —’ and I introduced myself.” She said she “had no idea” who he was, except that he was the owner of the pageant.
Most of the women had fond recollections of Ivanka Trump, who, they said, came into the changing room to mingle. Billado said she told Ivanka about Donald Trump entering the room while the girls were changing their clothes. Billado remembers Ivanka answering, “Yeah, he does that.”
Asked about this by email, neither the campaign nor the Trump Organization responded.
“I remember it shocking me,” Billado said. “I barely let anybody except my sister see me getting dressed.”
She viewed Trump’s intrusion into the dressing room “was more of a pompous ‘I own this place’ rather than a perverted thing.” Still, she said, “I would never let my daughter run for a pageant that he owns.”
Kendall Taggart is an investigative data reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4148 BEAD 45CF E7D3 84CC F602 ABF3 469D E2F7 D8A0
Contact Kendall Taggart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Garrison is a senior investigative editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Jessica Garrison at email@example.com.
Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Jessica Testa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.