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Trump says Miss California USA can retain crown

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MARCUS FRANKLIN | May 12, 2009 07:57 PM EST | AP


NEW YORK — Donald Trump reviewed Miss California USA's comments about same-sex marriage, her association with a conservative group and her semi-nude pictures before making his decision: You're not fired.

The owner of the Miss USA pageant said Tuesday that Carrie Prejean can keep her crown, rejecting complaints that her photos and her advocacy violated contest rules. Prejean then stepped to the lectern and said the allegations were "hateful" attacks by people who didn't like her response to a question about same-sex marriage during last month's Miss USA pageant.

"On April 19 on that stage I exercised my freedom of speech, and I was punished for doing so," she said. "This should not happen in America."

Prejean was the first runner-up in the pageant, but the 21-year-old has become better known than the winner because of the media firestorm over her comments against same-sex marriage. Photos of her in her underwear, semi-nude in some cases, surfaced later and led to the review of her state title.

"We've reviewed the pictures carefully," Trump said at a packed news conference at Trump Plaza in New York City. "We've made a determination that the pictures taken were acceptable. Some were risque, but we are in the 21st century."

Trump also defended the answer Prejean gave pageant judge and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. She said she believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

"It's the same answer the president of the United States gave," Trump said. "It's the same answer many people gave. She gave an honorable answer. She gave an answer from her heart, and I think for that she has to be commended."

Trump only briefly addressed questions surrounding Prejean's association with the National Organization for Marriage, dismissing them as a "communication problem" with California pageant officials. State pageant officials had investigated whether she violated her contract by making public appearances with groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

"I use the term 'miscommunication' somewhat loosely," Trump said, "but they were having miscommunication. The communication problem, I believe, is totally solved."

Before competing in the Miss California USA competition, all prospective contestants are required to sign a detailed 12-page contract prohibiting Miss California USA from making personal appearances, giving interviews or making commercials without permission from pageant officials.

The contract also contains a clause asking participants to disclose whether they have conducted themselves "in accordance with the highest ethical and moral standards." It asks participants whether they have ever been photographed nude or partially nude.

After Trump spoke, Prejean, accompanied by her parents, decried what she described as "hateful attacks, despicable rumors and false allegations." She said Hilton's question was "politically charged" with a "hidden personal agenda."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Prejean said she was briefly tempted by Satan to answer Hilton's question in a way that would please the judges.

"I had worked so hard for this," she said.

Instead, she decided to give her honest opinion, even if it cost her points.

"The Lord was in my heart and in my head just saying, `Carrie, how bad do you want this? Are you willing to deny me?'" she said. "I will always continue to not compromise my values."

After the pageant, Prejean revisited the same-sex-marriage issue in interviews and televised talks, including one at her San Diego megachurch and another on behalf of the marriage group.

On Tuesday, the group featured a photo of Prejean on its Web site and said it had launched a new advertisement against gay marriage featuring footage of her at the pageant. The ad also features video of Hilton referring to Prejean with a profanity.

The Miss Universe Organization has demanded that the group remove the ad. Brian Brown, the National Organization for Marriage's executive director, said the group did not plan to comply.

Prejean told the AP that she was not working with the National Organization for Marriage.

Trump's senior executive assistant, Rhona Graff-Ricci, said Trump wouldn't answer further questions about Prejean's dealings with the marriage group. Officials at the Miss Universe Organization, which runs Miss USA, didn't immediately return a message Tuesday.

Prejean said she was confident she and pageant officials could work together despite past tensions.

"The most important thing now is we are moving forward," she said. "We have a relationship now."

She said she had received thousands of letters and e-mails from supporters, and that she had forgiven the people who attacked her for expressing her views, including Hilton.

Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, is best known for his blog but has also branched into gay rights advocacy.

"I'd love to have him back as a judge," Trump said.

In 2006, Trump gave former Miss USA Tara Conner a second chance; she agreed to enter rehab when reports surfaced that she drank alcohol at New York clubs when she was 20.