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In the final moments of the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominee of a major party, brought up rival Donald Trump’s comments about women, and one woman in particular.
"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers," Clinton said. "And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name."
"Where did you find this? Where did you find this?" Trump asked.
"Her name is Alicia Machado," Clinton continued. "And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet she's going to vote this November."
Within minutes of Clinton’s remarks, her campaign tweeted out a two-minute video of Machado, who supports Clinton and has campaigned for the Democratic candidate, describing her experiences with Trump.
"For sure, he is not a good person," she told Inside Edition. "He called me ‘Miss Piggy,’ ‘Miss Housekeeping.’ "
Trump spokesman Jessica Ditto said in a statement that Clinton’s and Machado’s claims "are totally baseless and unsubstantiated claims."
While we did not find reports of Trump describing Machado in those exact words it’s clear that he criticized her for her weight.
An ‘eating machine,’ the ‘incredible bulk’
Machado, then 19 and Miss Venezuela, was crowned Miss Universe in May 1996, the first year the organization was owned by Trump.
Three months into her reign, Machado's weight became a storyline. Wire services reported, quoting an anonymous pageant official, that Machado had been ordered to shed 20 pounds by early September 1996 or risk losing her title. The Miss Universe organization promptly denied that Machado would be replaced.
Trump’s annoyance with Machado’s weight began surfacing in news reports ("the battle of the bulge," one gossip columnist quipped) in early 1997. Trump called Machedo an "eating machine," according to various news reports.
"We've tried diet, spa, a trainer, incentive," he’s quoted saying. "Forget it, the way she's going, she'd eat the whole gymnasium."
"She likes to eat — like all of us," Trump said, according to a 1997 AP story. "The weight was unacceptable to a lot of people. It was not unacceptable to me."
So Trump invited more than 50 photographers to see Machado work out in New York in January 1997. He also allegedly yanked a plate of food out of Machado’s hands at a function saying, "You don’t need this."
He told the Daily Telegraph that Machado’s contract included a "balloon clause" so "we had a choice of termination of the contract or do this and we wanted to do this."
Newsweek portrayed Trump as more sympathetic to Machado’s weight gain than other pageant officials, who thought she should forfeit her crown, "but Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with CBS, said that ‘would be unfair to her and to people with a weight problem.’ "
But allegations that Machado was in danger of losing her crown were not true, the Miami Herald reported in April 1997.
"We did not consider taking away her crown," Miss Universe president Maureen Reidy told the Herald. "We're not about being thin; we're about being physically fit."
Reidy also disputed claims that Machado was overeating. Her weight gain, Reidy said, was due to her body and metabolism adjusting to an "unhealthy diet that did not allow her to eat after noon" enforced by pageant official in Venezuela. "She was put under unrealistic restraints."
Machado felt that the the pageant and Trump took advantage of her with the workout regimen.
"He said, 'This is a perfect opportunity for us to make some publicity for the pageant. Let's take advantage of this fatty,' " Machado told the Herald.
So Trump is on the record with several disparaging comments about Machado’s weight, but our search did not turn up any instance of Trump publicly calling Machado "Miss Piggy" or "Miss Housekeeping." According to 1998 news reports, Trump did refer to her as "the Incredible Bulk."
Here’s a snippet from his 1997 memoir, The Art of the Comeback:
"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."
After her reign as Miss Universe, Machado made headlines again when she was accused of being an accomplice in an attempted murder. The charges were ultimately dropped.
Machado’s boyfriend, Juan Rodriguez, shot and wounded his brother-in-law, Francisco Sbert, at a memorial service for Sbert’s wife in Venezuela in November 1997. Rodriguez accused Sbert of driving his sister to suicide, and attempted to kidnap his 11-year-old nephew. According to news reports at the time, witnesses said Machado drove Rodriguez away from the scene.
The charges against Machado were dropped in January 1998 over insufficient evidence, but Rodriguez was indicted. A few months later, the judge who cleared Machado said that she called him and made threats on his career and his life over her boyfriend’s indictment.
Machado denied this and said she merely called the judge to thank him. Those accusations appear to have gone nowhere, either.
Afterwards, Machado became a telenovela star in Venezuela and Mexico and launched a singing career. She became an American citizen and registered to vote in Miami the day before the first presidential debate.
Trump, for his part, has not backed down from his comments about Machado’s weight.
The morning following the presidential debate, Trump brought back the weight issue in an interview on Fox and Friends, but added that Clinton "talked about her like she was Mother Teresa, and it wasn’t quite that way, but that’s okay. Hillary has to do what she has to do.
"That person was a Miss Universe person, and she was the worst we ever had, the worst, the absolute worst. She was impossible," Trump said. "She was the winner and, you know, she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude."
Machado, for her part, has been more vocal about Trump since her reign as Miss Universe. In a May 2016 interview with the New York Times, Machado went into detail about her interactions with Trump over her weight:
"I told the president of Miss Universe, a very sweet woman, I said I need some time to recuperate, to rest, to exercise, to eat right. I asked them to bring me a doctor to help me — to have a special diet and get exercise, and they said yes. They took me to New York, installed me in a hotel.
"The next day, they took me to the gym, and I’m exposed to 90 media outlets. Donald Trump was there. I had no idea that would happen. I was about to cry in that moment with all the cameras there. I said, ‘I don’t want to do this, Mr. Trump.’ He said, ‘I don’t care.’ "
Machado, who starred in several telenovelas and launched a singing career after 1997, told the New York Times she struggled with anorexia and mental illness for years after the humiliating experience.
In a Sept. 27 call arranged by the Clinton campaign with reporters, Machado said in Spanish Trump was "violent, untempered, machista and misogynistic" and urged Latinos to get out the vote.
The campaign also put out a video featuring Machado.
"He was very overwhelming. I was very scared of him. He’d yell at me all the time. He’d tell me, ‘You look ugly’ or ‘you look fat.’ " Machado said in the video, adding she was never paid for her work for the pageant.
New York Daily News, "Miss Universe is expanding" (subscription required), Aug. 20, 1996
Miami Herald, "THE PEOPLE COLUMN (subscription required)," Jan. 29, 1997
Newsweek, "We will make peace in the Middle East, hand by hand, heart by heart, soul by soul," (subscription required) Feb. 3, 1997
The Straight Times, "Hotels face big space crunch in June" (subscription required), Jan. 30, 1997
Associated Press, "Miss Universe works out in attempt to lose weight" (subscription required), Feb. 1, 1997
USA Today, "Miss Universe hops to it in N.Y." (subscription required), Jan. 29, 1997
Sunday Mail, "TV scene" (subscription required), April 27, 1997
The Daily Telegraph, "Beauty queen says she'll come up trumps over weight" (subscription required), Jan. 31, 1997
Tampa Bay Times, "Trump, king of the Universe" (subscription required), May 19, 1997
Miami Herald, "THE PEOPLE COLUMN" (subscription required), April 20, 1997
Miami Herald, "NOT YOUR ORDINARY MISS UNIVERSE DESPITE ALL THE GLITZ, GLAMOUR AND GLORY, ALICIA MACHADO CAN'T WAIT TO PASS THE CROWN AND GET ON WITH HER LIFE" (subscription required), April 30, 1997
Daily Record, "Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado has been accused of driving a getaway car in a botched murder attempt" (subscription required), Jan. 26, 1998
Toronto Star, "Venezuela: The ugly face of the beauty business," June 29, 1997
Miami Herald, "The whole scoop," Aug. 29, 1997
Toronto Star, "France AVALANCHE KILLS 10 The Toronto Star January 24, 1998, Saturday, SATURDAY SECOND EDITION," Jan. 24, 1998
The People, "EX-MISS UNIVERSE ON MURDER BID CHARGE; FORMER MISS UNIVERSE ON MURDER CHARGE," Jan. 25, 1998
Daily Record, "Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado has been accused of driving a getaway car in a botched murder attempt," Jan. 26, 1998
Daily Mail, "Jail threat to former Miss Universe in murder bid case," Jan. 26, 1998
USA Today, "Algeria urged to accept help to combat violence" (subscription required), Jan. 27, 1998
The Miami Herald, The People colum, Feb. 6, 1998
Sunday Mail, Judge death threat denied, Feb. 8, 1998
Email interview with Josh Schwerin, Clinton campaign spokesman, Sept. 27, 2016
Email interview with Steven Cheung, Trump campaign spokesman, Sept. 27, 2016