Reuters International

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Eugene, Oregon, U.S. on May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

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By Ginger Gibson and David Lawder

WASHINGTON, 2016 - A top aide to Donald Trump said on Sunday he did not believe the Republican presidential front-runner posed as his own spokesman to brag about his personal life, a controversy that came as Democrats sharpen their attacks on the billionaire's character.

The Washington Post released an audio recording on Friday of a man who identified himself as Trump publicist "John Miller" and talked about the real estate tycoon's romantic encounters in a 1991 conversation with a People magazine reporter.

After listening to the tape while appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" show, senior Trump adviser Paul Manafort said he did not believe it was the Republican candidate's voice despite his past admissions of sometimes using a pseudonym.

"I could barely understand it," Manafort said. "I couldn't tell who it is. Donald Trump says it's not him, I believe it's not him."

Trump told NBC's "Today" show on Friday that the voice was not his, although he has admitted in years past to using at least one pseudonym to speak to reporters.

The original People article, which ran in 1991, winkingly described Miller as "a mysterious PR man who sounds just like Donald."

Within a few days of that article, Sue Carswell, the People reporter who originally made the recording, reported that Trump had admitted that he posed as Miller as a joke and had apologised for it.

Trump earlier this month effectively locked up the Republican nomination to run in the Nov. 8 presidential election and has been working to try to unify his party after many of its leaders opposed his candidacy.

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's allies have described Trump as "deceptive" and honed in on his treatment of women. Clinton has begun attacking Trump more aggressively since he effectively secured the nomination, deriding his character and recently suggesting he is hiding something by not releasing his tax returns.

Trump has reacted angrily to criticism he sometimes reduces women to their appearances, and in turn has criticized Clinton for how she and her husband, Bill Clinton, treated women who accused the former president of sexual indiscretions.

Bill Clinton has admitted to having extra-marital affairs with two women: Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, and Gennifer Flowers, a singer and actor from Arkansas.

On Sunday, Trump used his Twitter account to deride a New York Times article in which several women said he had "unnerved" them over the years with comments about their looks and unwelcome advances. The article also said he had a good track record of promoting women to senior positions, which was rare in the real estate industry.

"Everyone is laughing at the @nytimes for the lame hit piece they did on me and women," went one message posted on Trump's account on Sunday.

'LOTS OF PEOPLE USE PEN NAMES'

Democratic President Barack Obama used a commencement speech at a university on Sunday to criticise Trump's positions, including a proposal to temporarily ban non-American Muslims from entering the United States.

"Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country, that is not just a betrayal of our values, that is not who Americans are," he told the students at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Although it was widely reported in the early 1990s that Trump sometimes posed as a fake spokesman in order to shape media coverage, the recording of what is said to be such an occurrence only emerged a few days ago.

It quickly rippled through American media. The comedy television programme "Saturday Night Live" showed a skit with an actor posing as Trump calling reporters pretending to be his own spokesman, named John Pepperoni.

Trump's willingness to pose as a fake spokesman first emerged in 1990, when he testified during a lawsuit that he had used the pseudonym John Baron, sometimes rendered in news reports as John Barron, when speaking to journalists by telephone.

"Lots of people use pen names," Newsday quoted Trump as saying after his testimony. "Ernest Hemingway used one."

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Timothy Gardner in Piscataway, New Jersey; Editing by Alan Crosby and Paul Simao)

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