The Trump Files: When Donald Couldn’t Tell the Difference Between Gorbachev and an Impersonator (Video)

Duped by a fake Soviet?

Ivylise Simones

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Until the election, we’re bringing you “The Trump Files,” a daily dose of telling episodes, strange but true stories, or curious scenes from the life of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

When then-Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited New York City in 1988, Donald Trump saw an opportunity for an up-close-and-personal encounter with the top Russian. Unfortunately, he got the wrong Gorbachev.

After descending from his office in Trump Tower upon hearing that Gorbachev was outside, Trump shook hands with a man who appeared to be Gorbachev—but wasn’t. Impersonator Ronald Knapp, who had won a Gorbachev look-alike contest, had the pleasure of meeting Trump, who notoriously loathes handshakes.

Trump denied that he fell for the stunt. “He looked fabulous and he sounded fabulous, but I knew it couldn’t be right,” Trump said, according to the Milwaukee Journal. “For one thing, I looked into the back of his limo and saw four very attractive women…I knew that his society had not come that far yet in terms of capitalist decadence.”

But a man accompanying Knapp, Gordon Elliott, assured the New York Times that Trump had been played. “There was absolutely no question that he bought it,” Elliott said. Knapp subsequently wrote a book about his time as a Gorbachev impersonator. The title? The Guy Who Got Trump.

Read the rest of “The Trump Files”:

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate