Our first full month in the White House was like living inside an emotional washing machine that only made you feel dirtier with every rinse. Even though I believed we’d come out ahead, it felt like I was being dragged down. I missed my family. I missed my old life.
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I had never been a secret special advisor in the White House before. Melania had never been First Lady before. Since Melania was still living in New York, she wasn’t even a full-time First Lady yet. Our team of Lindsay, Rickie, Tim, Emily, Vanessa, Stephanie Grisham, Mary-Kate, David Monn, and I was a motley crew. Every single thing we did or didn’t do was under the media microscope.
Even if Melania didn’t do anything, it made news. On January 30, 2017, the front page of the Washington Post “Style” section dubbed her “the AWOL First Lady.” After speaking with Melania, I emailed Reince Priebus and Katie Walsh, attaching the article, and said, “I understand that we have hiring restrictions but when it comes at the detriment of the First Lady (see below) it is not something we can ignore. We have an incredibly qualified Communications Director [Jessica Boulanger,] who is eager to begin but we need budget approval. We do not need a lot of staff, but we do need qualified staff.”
Two days later, February 1, brought a blistering article by CNN’s Kate Bennett and Betsy Klein, called “Whither Melania Trump: 12 days without a public sighting.” The gist of it was, while the president was making news with his executive orders and the travel ban, Melania was missing in action. Where had Melania been since the inauguration? It wasn’t exactly a mystery. She was home at Trump Tower with Barron.
I was endeavoring to solidify the staff, do the renovations, and field press queries. Not a minute went by that we weren’t scrambling to get things done. But the frenzy behind the scenes didn’t matter if nothing was going on in the public eye.
The CNN piece said that Melania’s “20-30” staff slots (I WISH!) remained wide open and that she hadn’t announced an initiative or a social schedule of events. The tone mocked her as a do-nothing First Lady who was so uninterested in her role that she refused to visit DC, let alone move there.
The official reason Melania had decided to stay in New York was so that she could be with Barron while he finished the school year, at a total cost of $150,000 per day for added security and traffic control around Trump Tower. In an interview with The New York Times, Donald said that Melania and Barron would move to Washington “very soon” and would visit on the weekends.
The truth? She really did want Barron to finish off the school year in New York. But also, renovations to the White House Residence weren’t finished yet, and she wasn’t going to move into a construction site.
Every day, as her spokesperson, I had to defend her decision and swear that the First Lady would, one day, be THRILLED to move to DC and was ECSTATIC to be FLOTUS. I was quoted in the CNN “whither” article: “Mrs. Trump is honored to serve this country and is taking the role and responsibilities of first lady very seriously. It was only been a short time since the inauguration and the first lady is going to go about her role in a pragmatic and thoughtful way that is unique and authentic to her.”
The line in that article that got under my skin: “[When] Trump boarded Marine One to pay his respects to a fallen service member’s family in Delaware, he was accompanied by first daughter, Ivanka—a reminder that she is his closest family in Washington.”
As irritating as they were, AWOL FLOTUS articles were only presenting the evidence. Melania lived in New York. She didn’t appear in public or release statements to the press. Her social media was quiet. Ivanka rushed in to fill the void as the “acting” First Lady, issuing constant social media posts and press releases galore about her involvement with women’s issues, lobbying Daddy about climate change (alas, unsuccessfully), and attending every meeting she could slink her way into.
To prove to the press that we were filling slots, I sent a draft of yet another press statement to Hope Hicks for approval so we could finally announce Lindsay as chief of staff and myself as senior advisor. Four hours later, Hicks emailed, “Looks fine. I assume you have connected with Reince, Katie, counsel? Adding needed parties here!”
Katie Walsh confirmed at eight p.m. that she’d sent out the press release. I texted Melania, “It’s out!”