Does a New York tabloid columnist know something about Donald Trump’s activities in Russia that the president-elect would prefer the world did not?
That was the question raised by audio from a 2001 episode of The Howard Stern Show that circulated online Wednesday. In the clip, discovered by viral-video editor Vic Berger of Turner-owned Super Deluxe, former New York Daily News gossip writer A.J. Benza tattles on Trump, all to host Howard Stern’s delight.
Trump, meanwhile, is listening in on a phone line, denying the conversation ever transpired. (Trump was single at the time; he would marry current wife Melania Trump in 2005.)
“He bangs Russian people,” says Benza.
“Who are you talking about, A.J.?” asks Trump. “I don’t know anything.”
Benza persists over Trump’s protests: “He used to call me when I was a columnist and say, ‘I was just in Russia. The girls have no morals. You gotta get out there.’ “
The exchange comes amid sensational reports of a leaked memo, compiled by a former intelligence operative and published by BuzzFeed, that was presented last week by U.S. intelligence officials to President Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Among the allegations made in the document: that Trump partook in an orgy with Russian sex workers in the Presidential Suite of The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow — an encounter that secretly was videotaped by the KGB and used as leverage against him.
Reached by The Hollywood Reporter, Benza characterizes his remarks as having come from “an off-the-record conversation with two single guys talking about girls. As far as I’m concerned, we were just two guys telling lies.”
Benza adds that he and Trump were feuding at the time, but that the president-elect has since earned his respect.
“We got no beef now,” he says. “I’m behind the guy.”
Trump was a semiregular guest on Stern’s show throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, where he regaled the host with stories of his status and sexual prowess. In 2004, he described a 1990 ski trip to Aspen, Colo., to which he brought his then-wife, Ivana Trump, and, unbeknownst to her, his mistress Marla Maples.
And in a 2005 appearance, Trump boasted of entering the dressing rooms of Miss Universe contestants, a pageant he owned at the time.
“I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed. … 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,” Trump said in the audio, which resurfaced in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.