It’s safe to say that Melania Trump’s time in the White House wasn’t easy. From the moment she left her gilded palace in Manhattan to begin her four-year sentence as a public servant, it was clear that the first lady was not exactly a natural. The former model’s notoriously private (as much as someone who posed nude in a magazine could be), she’s not known for public speaking, and as an immigrant, she doesn’t relate much to her predecessors.
According to GQ, Melania aimed to be “‘traditional’ like Jackie Kennedy” and even restored the rose garden to Kennedy’s original blueprint. By the time she began her term, the former model was already a philanthropist, supporting “many, many charities” involving “children” and “diseases.” She tried, at least vaguely, to perform her duties. She begrudgingly decked the White House halls for Christmas. She stood next to her husband and smiled (or at least tried to). She even launched her Be Best initiative to curb cyberbullying, which appears to have been at least partially successful, considering her husband has been banned from Twitter. We can’t credit Melania totally, but we can’t not credit Melania.
Nonetheless, despite her wins, Melania’s seemingly plush life wasn’t immune to disaster. In recent years, her quiet existence as a billionaire’s wife has been marred by snafus, scandals, and speculation. Here’s a look back on her worst days.
The day Melania Trump's father was charged
Melania Trump is a woman of many mysteries, and she hasn’t spoken a ton about her life in Slovenia. In an interview with GQ, she revealed that she had a “beautiful childhood” in Sevnica. Even in the stronghold of communism, the former model’s family reportedly “lived well,” but that doesn’t mean they never fell on tough times.
Back when Melania Trump (née Knauss) was a young girl known as Melanija Knavs, her father, Viktor Knavs, allegedly got in trouble with the law. According to GQ, who looked over the police’s records, he was investigated for “illicit trade and tax evasion in 1976” and formally “charged with a tax offense.” Slovenia allows for so-called “legal rehabilitation” after a certain statute of limitations, so his record has reportedly been wiped clean. Nonetheless, Melania was around six years old at the time, and that kind of family stress undoubtedly affects a kid.
Today, the first lady denies that such a thing ever happened. She reportedly “snapped” at the GQ reporter who brought up the incident and barred phone calls to her father. “He was never under any investigation, he was never in trouble,” she told GQ. Maybe the incident didn’t occur, or maybe tax evasion accusations are an increasingly sore spot for the former model. We can’t know for sure.
The day Melania Trump dumped her college sweetheart
Before Melania Trump ever fell into the tiny hands of her now-husband, the former model had a bittersweet college love story. According to GQ, the first lady landed a “fellow model” and physical education student who was described as “sporty,” “good-looking,” and a highly “sought-after” bachelor. In some ways, the 20-year-old was the polar opposite of the man she’d eventually end up with, who’s facing a record low approval rating and has an alleged aversion to physical activity — for reference: The New Yorker (via CNN) claims that Donald avoids exercise because he believes humans are like batteries and “born with a finite amount of energy.” Unfortunately, Melania’s blossoming relationship never flowered.
At the time, the star was reportedly unhappy with her college sweetheart’s “lack of seriousness.” Petra Sedej, a former classmate, claimed the first lady was “much more mature” than her friends, and her boyfriend simply couldn’t commit to something any deeper. “She was very sensitive. She wanted more,” Sedej told GQ, admitting that Melania was “disappointed” by the whole situation.
Cutting ties with your college sweetheart is often a right of passage, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
The first time she dumped Donald Trump
Melania Trump probably could’ve saved her future self from enduring her husband’s alleged affairs, sexual assault allegations, and the so-called “locker-room banter” on the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape had she followed her initial instincts. According to GQ, the former model was aware of Donald Trump’s reputation, if only because he brought a date to the very event where he tried to pick her up. It was this type of alleged behavior that caused the couple to split at the beginning of their relationship.
In the early days, Melania appeared to guard her heart by drawing hard lines. GQ reports that when Donald first met the former model in 1998, she refused to give out her phone number. She didn’t want to be “just one of the women he calls,” she said. Instead, she took down his digits and called him a week later. Though she admitted they had “great chemistry,” her initial hesitation wasn’t exactly unwarranted. According to her former roommate, Matthew Atanian, Melania ended things over “trust issues” shortly after they started dating.
“She was telling me that she wouldn’t have it, he was back to his old ways. She kept her apartment to have her own space because of this,” Atanian told GQ. As we know, the pair did get back together, but it’s unclear if the root of the problem was ever resolved or if Melania merely got used to living in a gold-plated penthouse overlooking Central Park.
Election Day 2016, where she allegedly cried
There was, perhaps, no day that shattered Melania Trump’s psyche more than the day her husband was elected into office — at least if you’re going by Michael Wolff’s salacious tell-all, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. “Melania … was in tears — and not of joy” on election night after it started looking like Donald might unexpectedly win. Later, at his inauguration, Wolf claimed that the president was “visibly fighting with [Melania], who seemed on the verge of tears.” Her prominent scowl as she stood behind him became the scowl heard around the world, unleashing the now-infamous hashtag #FreeMelania.
The White House has refuted the claims that Melania was upset with her husband’s presidency, and eventually, the first lady did leave her golden palace in the Big Apple, albeit a reluctant five months after Donald. Nonetheless, according to the Daily Mail, Omarosa Manigault Newman, who somehow managed to become a political aide after casting herself as one of The Apprentice’s most ominous villains, claimed that Melania was “counting every minute” until her husband was out of office. Then again, Manigault Newman has a spotty track record for the truth, but Melania’s alleged countdown is coming to an end regardless.
When an outlet claimed that Melania Trump was an escort
Melania Trump’s modeling career landed her a so-called “Einstein Visa,” which BBC notes is reserved for individuals who are “highly acclaimed in their field” (think: Olympians and Oscar-winners). Though the legalities of her work prior to landing her EB-1 have been questioned, there’s no doubt that she’s been successful. That’s why it was all the more infuriating when the Daily Mail published a 2016 report claiming that the Slovenian beauty had a secret past as a sex worker. This time, the claims were so egregious that Melania was prepared to take the so-called fake news media to court.
According to a report in USA Today and the Daily Mail’s subsequent apology (yes, they were forced to issue an apology), the original article alleged that the modeling agency Melania worked for in New York “operated as an escort agency for wealthy clients” and she sometimes dabbled in the illegal trade. Her camp claimed the accusations were completely bogus and ignited a historic battle. Per The Guardian, Melania’s winning settlement became “one of the highest ever to go through the British courts,” even though it valued at less than $3 million. Beyond that, she won a clear retraction.
Her first speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention
There was a lot riding on Melania Trump’s first campaign speech at the Republican National Convention. It was the former model’s first opportunity to shift her public image away from nude photoshoots and unimaginable wealth to that of a modern, relatable American woman, the type of person who’d fall seamlessly into the role of first lady. Little did we know that it would set the tone for her husband’s presidency, but not in a good way.
Melania’s major moment went disastrously wrong when she seemingly plagiarized the speech Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. According to BBC, Trump’s team claimed the former model’s speech used “common words,” but it undeniably shared an eerie resemblance. CNN even aired a side-by-side comparison, which made it hard to believe that the embarrassing gaffe was purely an accident or coincidence. Weirdly enough, it turned out to actually be an honest mistake.
Following the snafu, Trump campaign staff writer Meredith McIver admitted that since Melania “always liked” Obama, she wrote down parts of the 2008 speech in her notes and included them. “This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant,” she told NPR. Donald Trump reportedly chalked it up to an “innocent mistake” and rejected McIver’s resignation, but the damage had already been done.
Melania Trump's first Christmas in the White House
For most of America, Christmas is a joyful time filled with family, festivities, and maybe a little eggnog; however, Melania Trump is not like most Americans. As a public servant, the first lady inherited the grueling task of curating the White House’s Christmas decorations. For years, the Internet suspected that she just wasn’t into it. At worst, her 2017 decorations read like the haunting rebellion of a career woman trapped in a prison of antiquated gender roles. At best, they were meme fodder (though decidedly high fashion).
If it looked like Melania was having a terrible time, it’s because she was — and the truth was unwrapped like a present from the White House’s advent calendar of political scandal. In October 2020, her former senior advisor and friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, released a 2018 recording where Melania’s heard snapping, “I’m working like a — a**, my a** off on the Christmas stuff that you know, who gives a f**k about Christmas stuff and decoration, but I need to do it, right?”
On top of that, Melania was roasted like a chestnut for her choice of décor, with some comparing it to the return of Voldemort or a “rotting void.” Though the tape leak was likely a sore spot for a woman so widely scrutinized, it was perhaps one of her more relatable moments — particularly through the lens of 2020. Honestly, who really “gives a f***k” about the Christmas stuff?
The day the infamous Stormy Daniels interview was published
Yes, Melania Trump was aware of her husband’s reputation as a playboy. The heart — or pocketbook — wants what it wants. Nonetheless, there’s nary a soul on the planet who’d want to hear about their husband’s alleged affair, particularly if you were home caring for a newborn and the other woman was an adult film actress.
The Stormy Daniels scandal was undoubtedly a difficult time for the reserved first lady. According to Business Insider, the adult film actress first divulged the supposed dirty details to InTouch in 2011, but the real trouble came when the story was published on May 4, 2018. Per In Touch’s report, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, claimed that she linked up with the real estate developer in a hotel room in 2006 following a charity golf tournament. There, they had a “textbook generic” bedroom romp, where he reportedly did not use protection. The relationship allegedly continued for months. At the time, Barron wasn’t even a year old.
According to AP, Daniels was paid $130,000 to remain quiet, which triggered lawsuits from both sides. Basically, the whole thing was a mess, but it did briefly bring us the rise and fall of Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, which was a story arc so beautifully crafted we’re shocked it didn’t air on Bravo. Years later, author-slash-socialite Stephanie Winston Wolkoff leaked a recording of Melania discussing the affair, in which she called Daniels “the porn hooker” (via The Guardian).
When Melania Trump went missing
On May 14, 2018, the first lady underwent a procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a benign kidney condition. You’d think that surgery is already bad on its own, but the first lady had the added headache of watching the entire country declare her a missing person’s case. In truth, her husband is partly to blame, but the hashtag #MissingMelania had a life of its own.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Melania had an “embolization” for her kidney problem, which is typically an “outpatient procedure.” For some reason, she ended up staying in the hospital for nearly a week, per Vanity Fair. As to why is still a mystery, but we can only assume that her recovery wasn’t as easy as expected. From there, her on-going absence from the public eye sparked rumors, which were partially exacerbated when Donald told reporters that she was “doing great” and “looking” at them from a White House window. No one was there, which was at least definitive evidence that Melania had not become the sort of cursed ghost who’s stuck gazing out of their eternal prison’s window.
Stephanie Grisham, Melania’s former chief of staff, told Politico that the conspiracy theories were “silly nonsense,” and the first lady was “doing great.” Melania tweeted from the White House, herself, in an attempt to dispel the rumors. Nevertheless, they persisted for 24 days until the First Lady resurfaced at an event honoring Gold Star families.
The day Melania resorted to fast fashion
After years as a fashion model, Melania is at home wearing buzz-worthy clothes. Nonetheless, the Zara jacket seen around the world wasn’t her best look. As it turns out, pettiness is one of the only reasons the star is caught in fast fashion.
In June 2018, Melania jet set to McAllen, Texas, which was regarded as one of the “epicenters of the family separation crisis,” according to CNN. On the plane, she donned an army-green jacket emblazoned with the words “I really don’t care. Do U?” Melania told ABC News that it was a statement against the “left-wing media” who were criticizing her and claimed she was “the most bullied person in the world,” but her piercing attack on the so-called fake news colossally backfired.
Considering the jacket’s timing, many believed Melania’s message was meant for the estimated 5,400 children that were separated from their families at the border during Trump’s term (via The Washington Post). Whoops! “It’s obvious I didn’t wear the jacket for the children,” she told ABC News. “I wore the jacket to go on the plane and off the plane. … After the visit, I put it back on because I see how [the] media got obsessed about it.” Perhaps she should’ve left it to a tweet.
Melania Trump's brush with COVID-19
Donald Trump’s messaging regarding the pandemic has not only conflicted with CDC guidelines — it’s also conflicted with his own claims. He’s rattled on about how he won’t wear a mask, he’s habitually mocked people who do wear masks, and he’s thrown mega-rallies, which one study directly linked to 30,000 new infections and 700 deaths. In the same labored breath, he threw masks at a crowd during a rally and, eventually, urged Americans to wear them for real.
Strangely enough, the virus hasn’t disappeared despite the President’s on-going assertions, and it’s safe to say that Melania’s eventual illness may be a direct result of her husband’s behavior. This made her Oct. 14th statement, which was notably emotional for a typically reserved woman, all the more biting. There, she explained her “roller coaster of symptoms,” her initial fears for her family, and how they were uniquely fortunate with their treatment and outcome. In contrast, Donald once claimed that 99% of cases were “totally harmless” (via The Atlantic).
Melania’s message served to directly distance herself from her husband. Myra Gutin, author of The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century, told The Washington Post that she couldn’t name another time when any first lady has “released a separate statement from her own office so diametrically opposed to the president’s messaging.” And she did it just 30 days to Election Day. If you’re reading between the lines: Melania wasn’t happy.
The attempted insurrection
On January 6, days after ringing in the new year, a bunch of Trump-supporting conspiracy theorists from Reddit (and a number of other social media sites) haphazardly organized a failed insurrection, according to Vox’s Recode. The goal? Preventing the Capitol from certifying the election results.
At the time of this writing, the FBI is working their way through their wanted list, and Trump landed his second impeachment for “inciting the storming of the Capitol,” per BBC. This historic moment has never been seen before on TV, and it’s also — unsurprisingly — not a great time for Melania. Five days after the incident, the first lady issued a statement where she briefly mourned for those who lost their lives before complaining about the “salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations” about her. After all, according to CNN, she was allegedly putting together a photo shoot at the time. The attempted insurrection inconvenienced her, too.
Melania was subsequently slammed in the media for her seemingly self-centered response, which perhaps partially referred to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s recent essay in The Daily Beast (Melania was merely labeled “complicit in the destruction of America” – no biggie). And here we thought it was smooth-sailing until she finally made it back to New York.
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