Updated: October 3, 2020 7:02:26 pm
US First Lady Melania Trump courted controversy Thursday when her former senior adviser released secretly recorded tapes in which she is heard railing against the criticism she received in 2018 for her husband President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies, which separated refugee children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
Hours before the US President announced that he and Melania had tested positive for Covid-19, the First Lady’s former confidante and senior adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff shared the series of incriminating tapes during the CNN show ‘Anderson Cooper 360’.
In the tapes, Melania is also heard bemoaning some of her duties as First Lady of the United States and airing her frustration over the flak she has faced from sections of the press over the years.
Who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and how did she obtain the tapes?
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is an author, event planner and former friend and trusted aide to Melania Trump. She first became friends with Melania in 2003 and was later hired as the First Lady’s unpaid senior adviser when Trump was elected President.
She eventually resigned from her role after the fallout caused by the controversial Mueller report, which alleged that funds were mismanaged during Trump’s inauguration event, which Wolkoff had helped to organised, according to a New York Times report.
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In September, Wolkoff released her new book Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady, in which she offered several salacious details about the life of Melania Trump — including her strained relationship with stepdaughter Ivanka and her views on her husband’s border policy.
During a press interview to promote her new book on CNN’s ‘Anderson Cooper 360’, she aired a private conversation she had with Melania two years ago. The conversation, which was also documented in her book, stirred up a storm on social media, with several users accusing the first lady of speaking callously about the poor conditions in which refugee children live.
Melania “doesn’t shake in her boots ever and she tells Donald exactly how she feels,” says Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend of the First Lady and ex-East Wing adviser.
She believes “if he’s going to do it, he better do it right and he better do it with brass knuckles.” pic.twitter.com/biXV2SmbBE
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) October 2, 2020
What did Melania say in the tapes?
In 2018, soon after making a trip to the Mexican border to visit migrant children who had been detained and separated from their parents, Melania Trump got on the phone with her close friend Wolkoff to candidly complain about how the event was covered. At the time, the first lady was unaware that her friend was recording their private conversation.
President Trump faced tremendous backlash in 2018 for his “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant families. He eventually backed down, but the lasting impact of the policy is still being felt by hundreds of families.
In the tapes, Melania said the conditions in which refugee children lived were not as bad as the media made them out to be. “The kids, they say, ‘Wow I will have my own bed? I will sleep on the bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes.’ It’s so sad to hear, but they didn’t have that in their own countries. They sleep on the floor,” she said.
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“They are taken care of nicely there. But you know, yeah, they are not with parents. It’s sad. But when they come here alone or with coyotes (human traffickers) or illegally, you know, you need to do something,” Melania added.
She also suggested that some of the children were coached by their parents to exaggerate the dangers they face in their countries so that they would be allowed to cross the border. “They go over and they say like, ‘Oh, we will be killed by a gang member, we will be, you know, it’s so dangerous.’ So they are allowed to stay here,” she explained.
Speaking about her husband’s critics, Melania is heard saying, “They say I’m complicit. I’m the same like him, I support him. I don’t say enough, I don’t do enough where I am.”
She went on to allege that the media did not respond the same way when former President Barack Obama split up migrant families. Critics have pointed out that her accusation is misplaced as the Obama administration separated refugee children from their families only when they had concern about the child’s well-being.
“Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I can not go, I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn’t have a chance — needs to go through the process and through the law,” Melania is heard saying in the tapes.
She further complained about not getting enough credit for carrying out her duties as first lady — including her frustrations about planning Christmas decorations at the White House.
“I’m working…my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?” she said. “OK, and then I do it and I say that I’m working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, ‘Oh, what about the children that they were separated?’ Give me a f****** break.”
“The jacket was… a publicity stunt, and it was to garner the attention of the press, to make sure that everyone was aware that Melania was going to the border.”
Melania Trump’s former friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, on the infamous “I really don’t care. Do U?” jacket. pic.twitter.com/sCJAAAcvBf
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) October 2, 2020
Melania was also widely criticised for wearing a green jacket with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” printed on the back during her visit to the border. According to Wolkoff, the first lady deliberately wore the jacket as a “publicity stunt” to “garner the attention of the press” and “make sure that everyone was aware that Melania was going to the border.”
When Wolkoff asked Melania what drove here to buy the jacket, she claimed that she was just trying to “drive the liberals crazy”.
How has the White House reacted to the tapes?
In a statement released soon after the tapes premiered on CNN, Melania Trump’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham said that Wolkoff’s decision to publish the book and air the recordings right before the election were a “never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism.”
“Secretly taping the First Lady and wilfully breaking an NDA to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance. The timing of this continues to be suspect — as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism,” she told CNN.
“There is no way to know if these recordings have been edited and it’s clear the clips were hand-picked and presented with no context. The First Lady remains focused on her family and serving our country,” she added in her statement.
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