Our great first lady Melania Trump had awful support: Devine
One of the great mysteries of the Trump era has been the missed opportunities for the first lady to stamp her mark on the White House.
With her stylish good looks, straightforward manner and unique migrant life story, Melania Trump should have been a much more popular asset to the administration.
Yet she was woefully misunderstood and misrepresented.
It is a measure of the vacuum of the past four years that, despite her impeccable fashion sense, she never appeared on a magazine cover, unlike her predecessors.
None of this is an accident, according to administration loyalists who are speaking out now to protect the first lady, whom they say has been too trusting of her immediate staff.
Nor is it a product of Melania’s reluctance to help her husband or serve the American people.
No, the picture that emerges from conversations with insiders who have worked for the White House over the past four years is that the first lady was ill-served by the staffer she trusted most, Stephanie Grisham.
The 44-year-old, twice-divorced single mother is the first lady’s chief of staff and press secretary and previously served as White House press secretary and communications director.
Despite all the titles, she has been the least visible and most combative representative of any first lady in living memory.
Grisham rarely responds to reporters’ questions or requests for interviews or photo shoots, apart from a handful of favorites, such as Kate Bennett of CNN and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, who paradoxically have run the most caustic stories about the first family.
Grisham has managed to keep Melania Trump isolated from friends, staff and the media, and she has alienated potential allies and created drama for the president with her weirdly combative approach.
She played a part in the alienation of National Security Adviser John Bolton from the president when she quarreled with Bolton’s deputy Mira Ricardel over a plane seat during the first lady’s first solo trip to Africa, according to Bennett’s book, “Free Melania.”
Grisham released a rash statement afterward calling for Ricardel’s firing, which enraged Bolton and dismayed the president, according to Mary Jordan’s book, “The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump.” In his damaging subsequent tell-all, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton identifies that moment as the catalyst for his disaffection with Trump.
Grisham also fell out with the first lady’s former best friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who wrote in great detail in her own tell-all book, “The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady,” about Grisham’s toxic power games. Wolkoff wrote that Grisham schemed to alienate her from the first lady’s affections and installed herself as Melania’s prime confidante.
The last straw, and the catalyst for this story, was an incident at the election-night party at the White House attended by Grisham and 200 guests, after which two witnesses say she left her phone and White House badge unattended.
As a result, there were at least two complaints lodged about her conduct, and a formal investigation was launched by the Office of Administration a week and a half ago. Lawyers have interviewed a half-dozen staffers, including Secret Service agents, and made a recommendation for further action, according to those with knowledge of the case.
Grisham, who reportedly has had two drunken-driving arrests, denies that she left her work phone anywhere that night.
“I have left my badge at the [White House] before,” she says.
Then there were the leaks to the media, which no one seemed able to control. One of the most damaging this year was that the president, Melania and their son, Barron, were rushed into the secure underground bunker under the East Wing by Secret Service agents worried about the family’s safety during the Black Lives Matter riots outside the White House in May.
The story was published by Grisham favorite Haberman at The New York Times.
Only three staffers, Grisham, Trump loyalist director of social media Dan Scavino and Trump’s bodyman, Nick Luna, knew about the incident, according to one former senior White House official.
Grisham, who had returned to Melania’s office after Trump Chef of Staff Mark Meadows moved her out of the White House press role in April, receives alerts about the first lady’s movements.
As well, she is rarely seen in the White House, having been clocked into the East Wing fewer than 30 times since taking on the job in April. According to four insiders, Grisham has moved to Kansas and has not attended a single senior-staff meeting in the past seven months.
“She’s completely checked out,” says one.
Grisham denies that she has moved out of Washington, DC. But a source confirmed that she has “spent some time in Kansas” for family reasons.
She agrees she has been at the office “much less,” but that is because the “East Wing has been largely telecommuting for the past seven months because of COVID.”
Other staffers point out that essential employees, which would include the chief of staff, have indeed been working at the White House, and that the first lady asked where Grisham was during the turkey pardon last week.
During her entire eight months as White House press secretary, from July 2019, Grisham never once held a press briefing, leaving the president to take on the burden of answering questions from a frustrated White House Press corps, to his detriment.
White House staff also blame Grisham for the disastrous Bob Woodward book “Rage,” since she was the press secretary in charge when the deal was negotiated. She did not manage Woodward’s access to the president, including imposing the usual conditions on recording of interviews.
“She was a press secretary who never talked to the press,” says a former colleague. “She finagled her way into the job but she didn’t serve the press very well . . . and the president was vastly underserved.”
Then there were the lost opportunities to burnish the Trump-family brand.
Having eschewed countless offers for positive interviews from American outlets such as Women’s Wear Daily and The Post, Grisham allowed the British magazine Tatler to have the only exclusive interview of the campaign for its November issue. And yet she did not negotiate the cover of the magazine.
Instead, Meghan Markle took the honor.
There were other clumsy gaffes during the campaign. Perhaps the most jarring was when the president and the first lady tested positive for coronavirus in October. On his last day in the hospital, the president left Walter Reed Medical Center for a motorcade drive-by past supporters outside and was criticized for potentially putting his Secret Service agents at risk.
Yet at the same time, a spokesperson for Melania was telling Grisham favorite Bennett at CNN and NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander that the first lady was not going to visit her husband in the hospital because she is “aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and did not want to “expose the agents who would drive her there.”
All the people who spoke to me for this column say they are motivated by a desire to save the first lady from keeping Grisham for her post-White House life or to help Melania write her memoirs.
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