Trump team loves a good alias

Tillerson used email alias at Exxon
Tillerson used email alias at Exxon

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Story highlights

  • Michael D'Antonio: For the Trump administration, Rex Tillerson's "Wayne Tracker" alias marks a new level of weirdness
  • It's a reminder that some of our leaders seem unable to resist using ridiculous tricks and deceptions, D'Antonio writes

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the book "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success" (St. Martin's Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)A new American absurdity has joined the ranks of Carlos Danger and John Barron. His name is "Wayne Tracker" and he's the alter ego once employed by Rex Tillerson -- America's secretary of state, whose middle name is Wayne -- and, who has, until now, been one of the most respected members of the Trump administration.

Michael D'Antonio
According to a letter sent this week from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to a judge, Tillerson adopted the moniker to discuss climate change and other sensitive issues when he was the big boss at ExxonMobil. The judge is overseeing Schneiderman's current investigation into the oil company's possible concealment of key facts about climate change. "The email address, Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com, is part of the company's email system and was put in place for secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials and the former chairman for a broad range of business-related topics," spokesman Alan T. Jeffers said in statement.
Schneiderman has a different opinion, noting in his letter that Tillerson's "Tracker" emails may be relevant to "potentially false or misleading statements to investors and the public" and that the discovery of this alias brings "additional urgency" to his demand that Exxon hand over relevant documents in the investigation.
    For the Trump administration, "Wayne Tracker" marks a new level of weirdness amid a first hundred days already chock-full with the strange. For the rest of us, he's a reminder that some of our leaders seem unable to resist using ridiculous tricks and deceptions.
    In choosing to use an alias, Tillerson was able to hide thoughts he felt he needed to communicate without being discovered -- though using his middle name shows either a lack of imagination or remarkable confidence that no one would uncover his ruse. Trump's choice of names, John Miller and John Baron, indicates a similar boldness -- or lack of imagination -- to Tillerson's. Trump's middle name is John and, in the case of "Baron," the name reflects his well-known admiration for Baron Hilton (though elsewhere he has attributed the name as being inspired by that of his youngest son).
    Trump has admitted -- notably on an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel during his campaign -- that "over the years I have used aliases," including the name Baron or Barron. Though he denied during the campaign that he had used the name John Miller, People Magazine reported that Trump did admit using it to one of their reporters in the early 1990s, calling it "a joke gone awry." He's so well known for his aliases, in fact, that when journalist David Cay Johnston published two pages from Donald Trump's 2005 tax return on a website, Johnston told CNN that those documents -- which he got in the mail -- could have been sent by the President himself. "Donald has a long history of leaking things about himself and doing it indirectly and directly. So it's a possibility."
    The secretary of state's alias also reminds us that his boss, President Trump, infamously deployed not one but possibly at least two fake names. In the persona of these fictitious men, Trump made excuses for the destruction of public artwork he was supposed to preserve and promoted himself as one of the most desired men in the world.
    In one of the strangest interviews ever made public, Trump posed as Miller to tell a reporter that Carla Bruni, Madonna, and others were desperate to date him. Madonna "called and wanted to go out with him, that I can tell you," says "Baron." Listen further and you hear Trump/Miller deliver digs at both his former wife Ivana and his then-wife Marla Maples.
    A breathtaking display of cruel gossip and self-promotion, the John Miller recording illustrates how a man might use an alias to accomplish something he cannot reasonably accomplish under his own identity -- like Tillerson's Wayne Tracker enabled him to talk more openly about sensitive matters. As a fan of comic books, Trump surely enjoyed the thrill of this kind of superpower. Trump is also keen on royalty, which might explain why, during the break-up of his marriage to Ivana, he left messages from "the Baron" with hotel operators for Maples.
    Unlike Trump and Tillerson, then-member of Congress Anthony Weiner showed a bit of imagination in his choice of alias. As "Carlos Danger," he abandoned his identity as a nerdy and hyper New York politician and chose one he could use to send pictures of his private parts to a young woman he met on the Internet. He also indulged in conversations that anyone would deem dangerous to the personal and professional well-being of a member of Congress who was also a (supposedly) happily-married husband and father.
    Was Carlos's last name a subconscious acknowledgment of the risk-taking involved when a congressman (and later, a candidate for office) behaves so recklessly? Certainly the contents of Weiner's messages give us a clue to the insecurity behind the alias. In one he asks a woman, "If I met you in a bar and tried to talk to you, would I have a chance?"
    In Weiner's case, the alias gave him the opportunity to display sexual power he did not possess, and to elude responsibility for bad behavior. Trump also wanted to use fake identities to burnish his sexual reputation and avoid responsibility. It is difficult here not to at least nod to one of the most common types of alias, the nicknames men bestow upon their own reproductive instruments.
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    As bizarre as this all sounds unfolding against the backdrop of the highest institutions of power, aliases are not unusual (especially among certain groups of men). According to one criminology study published in 1986, more than half of a random group of men held in prison had used aliases in their career. Except for those rare cases when an alias is used to keep private a noble deed, people use aliases when they are doing something criminal, shameful, or sinful.
    It's certainly no surprise that, whether to indulge in wrongdoing or just to avoid unwanted scrutiny, Carlos Danger and John Barron -- and now, possibly, Wayne Tracker -- were deceivers, along with their inventors.