Inside Melania Trump's Unexpected White House Life

As polished as ever on the surface, the first lady navigates a landscape she couldn't have envisioned when she first entertained questions about her boyfriend's political ambitions 19 years ago

By Natalie Finn Apr 26, 2018 12:00 PMTags
E! Placeholder Image

The Melania Trump plot thickens.

The first lady has so far been unwavering in her quest to not rock any political boats while President Donald Trump is in office, speaking about her previously announced No. 1 issue, bullying, and also about the country's opioid crisis, and turning the world on with her style every time she steps outside. But try as she might to unobtrusively fulfill her duties as FLOTUS to the role's satisfaction, all eyes are on the inscrutable domestic situation in the White House once again.

"The star of the Trump family," as the president introduced Melania at a private dinner last year, has reliably polled higher than her husband since he took office (a common occurrence with first ladies), and as recently as January she was the favorite among all adult Trumps, first daughter Ivanka Trump included. But the outpouring of concern and sheer bafflement over what a day in the life of Melania Trump really looks like continues as evidence of President Trump's personal peccadilloes pile up and he persists in courting controversy on a near hourly basis.

Melania Trump's Best Looks

Policy matters have lately been overshadowed by Stormy Daniels' claims and the criminal investigation into Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who insists a $130,000 payment he made to Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair between her and Trump in 2006—months after Melania gave birth to now 12-year-old Barron Trump—was made without Trump's knowledge. The president also said "no" when asked if he knew about the payment.

Daniels, who along with Trump initially denied reports of an affair when the story first surfaced in 2011, burst into the public's consciousness in a big way last month with her blunt and unblinking 60 Minutes interview—which gave the 50-year-old news program its highest ratings in nearly a decade—and now her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has become a darling of the cable news circuit, giving his expert 2 cents on where he sees the Cohen situation going and confidently vowing that the truth well is about to start gushing.

Rather glaringly, Trump never expressly tweeted about Daniels (he tweeted that "fake news" had never been "more voluminous or more inaccurate" the day after her interview), but he went to the virtual mattresses to slam the investigation into Cohen. Combine that with the recent furor over fired FBI director James Comey's book and press tour, which revived the lascivious allegations contained in a dossier about an encounter Trump denies having with two Russian prostitutes, and we've seen a lot of angry tweets.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

But when there are cheating allegations—the Wall Street Journal also reported in 2016 that National Enquirer owner American Media, Inc. paid Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal $150,000 for exclusive rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 (also denied by POTUS) and never ran it—that means someone was supposedly cheated on.

And that person is now the first lady of the United States.

"No one was paying attention to her two years ago," a source told People in March. "They went about their day. Now it's a 24/7 tornado. She hates it." In fact, the insider added, "[Melania] has the same opinion about everything that the public does. 'What is going on! Why is this happening!'"

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As commentary from both sides of the aisle approached the crescendo of "leave him!," Melania spent the week following the 60 Minutes interview at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., with Barron, who was on spring break from St. Andrew's Episcopal School, where he's in the 6th grade.

The first lady's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said that Melania was "focused on being a mom and is quite enjoying spring break at Mar-a-Lago while working on future projects." 

Trump reportedly had dinner with his wife at Mar-a-Lago that Thursday and they returned to Washington for Easter.

Donald Trump Jr. was only 12 when he first became aware of just how shamelessly provocative the tabloid headlines could be when he saw his parents' divorce unfold in 1990, and now with the Internet Melania seemingly has an even tougher job keeping Barron out of the fray as far as the closer-to-home stories about his father are concerned.

While it's still unclear whether she has set other specific goals for her time in Washington, Melania has at least succeeded at maintaining Barron's privacy so far (though society is in general agreement anyway that their child—the first first son to live in the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr.—should be off limits as a target of scrutiny or mean-spirited humor). The tween is spotted at the usual times—Christmas tree lighting, Easter Egg Roll, etc.—and occasionally walking to and from the transport that takes the first family to Florida most weekends.

Sightings may increase this summer, but for the most part Barron's been busy since last September with a full schedule of school and activities. Melania was loath to leave Barron for extended periods while Trump was campaigning in 2016, only going out of town when she knew he'd be "okay alone for a few days with the help," she told GQ. While being first lady has already taken her to Asia, the Middle East and Europe, those trips are in actuality fairly whirlwind affairs (considering the miles traveled) that fit in with her preference to remain a fairly hands-on mom.

Additionally, her parents Viktor and Amalja Knavs, whose primary residence is also in Trump Tower in New York, make frequent trips to Washington to spend time with their daughter and grandson, and historically would often travel with the family to Florida.

Celebrity Couples Caught Up in Cheating Scandals: Where Are They Now?

"I never wanted to be the president's wife, and I don't want it now. You don't quite believe me do you?" So said Eleanor Roosevelt, who went on to use the unwanted opportunity to become one of the most involved, activist first ladies of all time, as well as the first U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights following her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt's death. 

Melania Trump didn't sign up for the job, either—or certainly not for the current set of circumstances—though she's had plenty of time to mull over the proposition, her husband having been floating the idea of running for president since long before they met in 1998. Before they were even married she was being asked what sort of first lady she would be.

"I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy," she told the New York Times in December 1999, without a trace of irony. "I would support him."


Meanwhile, she and Trump had recently done a phone interview on The Howard Stern Show together that quickly took a turn for the lewd.

"It was like a comedy show," Melania explained to the Times. "People who hear it direct from the radio show, it was completely different from the next day in the newspaper how they quoted. It was fun." As for her boyfriend talking about their sex life on the radio (Stern was still penned in by FCC regulation at the time), she added, "It's the man thing, that's how the man talks."

So if anyone thought she was changing her tune to fit the moment when the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in October 2016, and Melania dismissed her husband's comments as "boys talk"—she may have really meant it.

However, she told CNN's Anderson Cooper in her first interview on the topic, "I said to my husband that, you know, the language was inappropriate. It's not acceptable. And I was surprised, because that is not the man that I know. And as you can see from the tape, the cameras were not on—it was only a mic. And I wonder if they even knew that the mic was on."

"We talked in private," Melania continued. "I accept his apology and I hope the American people will accept it, as well. It was many, many years ago. [The man on the tape] is not the man that I know, and many times I said, and he's said it as well, it's very hard, especially for him, when he decided to run for [the] presidency because he did so much stuff in his life. He was on so many tapes. So many shows."

By then, Melania had already made a point of only speaking when it was necessary (or when it would have been really odd not to), in order to stay out of the exceptionally dirty presidential campaign being waged and better protect herself and son Barron—maintaining his normal routine being her stated main concern.

Recalling the relatively congenial media climate in which she married Trump in 2005—when Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the hundreds of guests at their wedding at Mar-a-Lago—Melania remarked to GQ two years ago, "It was completely different than it is now."

As for their markedly different relationship with the Clintons mid-campaign, Melania concluded, "This is it, what it is. It's all business now; it's nothing personal."

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

But while Donald Trump—the one who said we owed Hillary Clinton a debt of gratitude for her service to this country and congratulated her on a hard-fought campaign when he won the election but who now still regularly invokes "Crooked Hillary" in his tweets nearly 18 months later—has made it a habit to blur that line, Melania Trump remains the more reliable of the two when it comes to personal diplomacy and not napalming your bridges.

Hence Melania Trump attending the funeral held Saturday for former first lady Barbara Bush on her own, while the current President of the United States chose not to go to, as the official White House statement read, "avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends attending the service."

Paul Morse / Office of President George H.W. Bush

In his absence, Melania was free to uninhibitedly share a laugh with former President Barack Obama and pose for a photo with him, Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Laura and George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush (all of whom still live life with a Secret Service escort if not a full-on motorcade), the first time Melania was that close to the Clintons or the Obamas—frequent objects of her husband's ire—since her husband's inauguration.

Of course much was made of how happy Melania looked in the presence of people, particularly Obama, whom Trump maligns regularly, but that says more about the president than it does his wife, who by all accounts is an endlessly gracious person who navigates society with aplomb. 

A real feather in Trump's cap should he ever make a serious run for the presidency, observers predicted almost 20 years ago.


And as she promised back when she was a savvy 26-year-old model, Melania Trump has indeed supported her husband, at least outwardly—much to the consternation of many and the satisfaction of others. Whether or not she's a "traditional" first lady is up for debate, as waiting five months to move into the White House so Barron could finish the school year in New York, or often having no choice but to strike an entirely different tone from her husband on any given day (or, contrarily, having her office defend Trump's tendency to "punch back 10 times harder" in a fight) doesn't exactly scream business as usual.

Having her own separate bedroom is something Jackie Kennedy did, however.

This week was punctuated by video of the second hand-holding snafu of Trump's presidency—a few seconds of the commander in chief flicking his pinkie finger toward his wife's hand, fruitlessly indicating he desired a full hand-hold until she finally allowed it—zoomed in on and slowed down for Zapruder-worthy analysis. The brimmed white hat she wore along with her belted white Michael Kors suit and Christian Louboutin heels drew instant Olivia Pope comparisons, as well as some side-by-sides with Beyoncé in her brimmed black hat from "Formation." 

"What happened? Kerry Washington? She's an actress? I will have to Google something," Hervé Pierre, who designed the hat and had it made in New York from the same fabric as the suit, waved off the eager speculation in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Olivia Pope's Top 10 Looks on Scandal

Melania's French-born stylist, who designed her gown for last year's inaugural ball, also helped put together the Dolce & Gabbana dress and black Givenchy cape the first lady wore on Monday to welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte outside the White House. The two couples then planted a friendship tree together on the White House lawn, the ladies letting their husbands do the shoveling.

Tuesday ended with this administration's first-ever state dinner, held in the Macrons' honor and promising another chance for Melania to apolitically shine, this time in a Chanel gown. Another night of knowing exactly what was expected of her and delivering accordingly.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

"@FLOTUS did a spectacular job hosting the President of France @EmmanuelMacron and his wife Brigitte," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "Every detail was done to perfection. The State Dining Room never looked more beautiful, and Washington is abuzz over what an incredible job Melania did.

This week Melania shared some photos of her attending to some of the last-minuted details with her team ahead of the event, which, her social secretary told CNN, the first lady "selected every item and every detail for."

She opted for the State Dining Room, which seats a cozier crowd of 100 to 150 people, and in the spirit of unity the meal included greens from Michelle Obama's kitchen garden and was served on pieces from the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton china settings. Leading up to the dinner, Melania didn't seem nervous at all, Pierre said. "We were laughing earlier and she seemed to be in a very good mood. This morning we were up at 6 a.m."

Michelle Obama's Best Style Moments, by the Year

Today Melania celebrates her 48th birthday, her second as first lady. Last year POTUS went the impersonal route in public, with his Instagram and Twitter accounts sharing a photo taken of the couple on Inauguration Day, emblazoned with "Happy birthday to our first lady, Melania!"

Ivanka Trump, however, took the approach we're more used to these days, writing sweetly, "Happy Birthday to our First Lady (and my incredible step-mom!) Melania Trump. A wonderful example of kindness and grace for us all! Wishing you an amazing year to come!"


Perhaps with the timing being what it was this year, POTUS decided to get the celebration started early. 

On April 15, those on the Trump Make America Great Again Committee mailing list got a message with an early birthday-themed ode to Melania, sent with the subject line "My better half."

"This month, our family is looking forward to a very special day. Please join us in celebrating the First Lady and my beautiful, kind-hearted and exceptional wife Melania's birthday by signing her card," the message reportedly read. "Melania is my rock and foundation, and I wouldn't be the man I am today without her by my side. She's the cornerstone of our family, and an incredible mother to our son, Barron. I'm so proud of her accomplishments, and I hope you'll wish her well on her special day."

And may all of Melania's birthday wishes come true.

Latest News