When newly unearthed video this week showed financier Jeffrey Epstein arriving at a 1992 Donald Trump party, Maryland politicos and sports fans were drawn to a different face in the footage: 6-foot-11-inch Tom McMillen.
“What is he even doing there?” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College.
In November 1992, when NBC filmed the party at Mar-a-Lago for a feature on Trump’s bachelor lifestyle, McMillen was a Maryland congressman who had just lost his bid for a fourth term, a victim of unfavorable redistricting. Trump was a big and early contributor to McMillen’s political pursuits, which the Democrat launched after an 11-year National Basketball Association career.
McMillen continued to travel in political circles after leaving Congress, chairing the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition and doing a stint as a regent of the University System of Maryland. Last year, he was on the university’s commission investigating the heat-related death of football player Jordan McNair. He heads Lead1 Association, an organization of college athletic directors that advocates against proposals to pay collegiate athletes who are on scholarship.
The NBC video shows McMillen and a companion entering the party at Trump’s Florida estate at the same time as Epstein, a well-connected multimillionaire who pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution and was charged last month with trafficking dozens of underage girls.
The footage offered a counterpoint to Trump’s claim that he and Epstein were never close.
In Maryland, Eberly said, “people want to know: What was the nature of that relationship” between Epstein and McMillen?
McMillen, who was 40 at the time of the party, said there is not much to report. He said in an interview that he had run into Epstein socially in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., but has not spoken with him in 20 years. He said he remembers the party but not Epstein being there. “I know there was a receiving line,” McMillen said. “People went by, and Trump said hello.”
McMillen’s name is listed in Epstein’s black book, the financier’s private contacts of famous friends and acquaintances that Gawker published in 2015. Epstein’s entry for McMillen has at least six ways to contact him. McMillen said by text message he did not know he was listed there but was “not surprised, as he had lots of numbers.”
“The charges against him are so horrific and abhorrent,” McMillen said of Epstein in a text. “I sympathize with the victims and understand the media scrutiny.”
In Maryland, McMillen’s short-lived political career is overshadowed by his athletic achievements. While still a student, McMillen played on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. He delayed his NBA career to spend a year as a Rhodes Scholar. “The big thing to know is that he was a hell of basketball player at the University of Maryland,” said Nathan Landow, who was chair of the Maryland Democratic Party in 1992. “That was his claim to fame.”
McMillen left the NBA’s Washington Bullets in 1986 and ran for office. Current House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) was a political mentor, but McMillan had few allies in the state political establishment, which after the 1990 Census drew him into a Republican-leaning district, pitting him against an incumbent.
McMillen outspent Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest by a margin of 5 to 1 but narrowly lost.
D. Bruce Poole, another former Maryland Democratic Party chair, said McMillen’s social life at the time tended to favor the glitzy, wealthy folks from his Capitol Hill and basketball circles.
After leaving office, McMillen became involved in running several small companies. He resigned from the presidential fitness council in November 1997, days after the FBI seized records from one of the businesses, a health-care management company called Complete Wellness Centers.
McMillen was never charged, and the raid does not appear to have resulted in prosecution, but it was the second bout of negative publicity for him in four months. He had been arrested at his Capitol Hill townhouse in July 1997 after police were summoned by neighbors and found evidence that suggested he had been violent toward his girlfriend.
Prosecutors did not charge him, after the woman said that police misunderstood the incident and she had fallen down the stairs. The couple eventually married and as of 2016 were splitting time between Maryland and Middleburg, Va., where they raised peacocks.
In 2017, as McMillen was launching Lead1, he held the group’s first gala at Trump International Hotel in Washington.
“It’s a great venue,” McMillen said at the time. “It’s large, it’s got capacity and obviously I’ve had relations with the president-elect for 30 years.”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.