When Melania Trump stayed behind in New York after her husband’s presidential inauguration, she said it was because she didn’t want to interrupt their then-10-year-old son Barron’s school year. News stories at the time concentrated on an apparent frostiness between the first couple and the exorbitant taxpayer costs to protect Melania and Barron away from Washington.
Those stories are true, but Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan reveals in a new book that the first lady was also using her delayed arrival to the White House as leverage for renegotiating her prenuptial agreement with President Donald Trump.
The campaign had been full of harsh news about Trump’s alleged sexual indiscretions and infidelities, from the “grab them by the p—y” Access Hollywood tape to an affair with Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal; Melania learned new details from the media coverage, Jordan writes.
The incoming first lady needed time to cool off, and “to amend her financial arrangement with Trump — what Melania referred to as ‘taking care of Barron,’ ” Jordan writes in “The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump.”
Melania’s original prenup had not been incredibly generous, Jordan reports. But she has been married to Trump longer than both his ex-wives and had bargaining power: Her perceived calming effect on him was so great that Trump’s pals and at least one of Trump’s adult children exhorted her to come to the White House as soon as possible.
The 286-page book, which plays off the title of Trump’s well-known business guide, is a deeply reported look at the rise of the country’s only immigrant first lady since Louisa Adams.
For her book, Jordan conducted more than a hundred interviews, with everyone from Melania’s Slovenian schoolmates to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and lays out an argument that Melania Trump is as devoted to her own mythmaking as her husband.
“Both are avid creators of their own history,” Jordan writes, arguing that the #FreeMelania hashtag ought to be retired because of her consistent support of her husband and her moves to stay in the White House.
“She is … much more like him than it appears,” Jordan adds.
Jordan, a longtime Post reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, secured a rare one-on-one interview with Melania while covering the 2016 campaign. The Post received a copy of her book ahead of its June 16 release date.
The reporting goes back to Melania’s childhood in a small town in Slovenia, then part of Communist Yugoslavia, where her mother was a patternmaker in a children’s clothing factory and her father, who joined the Communist Party at one point, was a chauffeur and repaired cars. Melania was walking runways by age 7, modeling clothes her mother made, and sat for a photo shoot at 16.
The mythmaking, Jordan writes, began early, when she would fail to correct reporters who cited her age incorrectly, always younger than she was. Despite saying she wouldn’t get plastic surgery, three photographers who worked with her said they’ve seen the scars.
She attended a highly competitive architecture program at the University of Ljubljana, but did not graduate, though she claimed in sworn testimony to have a bachelor’s degree.
There’s also little evidence to suggest her claims of being able to speak four or five languages fluently are true.
“Photographers and others who have worked with her over the years — including native speakers of Italian, French, and German — told me that they never heard her use more than a few words of those languages,” Jordan writes. Reporting in the book suggests she only speaks English and Slovene fluently.
Meeting Trump accelerated that mythmaking, as he introduced her around the city as a “supermodel” when that was not true. Jordan found little evidence even of the story of how they met — he saw her at a club during Fashion Week in 1998 with a more famous model, but was fixated on Melania, who refused to give him her phone number. Multiple sources, including a German modeling agent she was working for that year, told Jordan that they had heard Melania was already dating Trump before the timeline they laid out.
The ease of Melania’s mythmaking has been aided, Jordan posits, by a pattern in her life of making clean breaks with her past. Old friends from Slovenia said they’d never heard from her again. Once-close friends from her New York City years say the same thing happened to them.
She “would seize an opportunity and put great effort into it. Then she would move on and never look back,” Jordan writes.
As much as she and Trump seem like complete opposites, Jordan writes, “They are both fighters and survivors and prize loyalty over almost all else. … Neither the very public Trump nor the very private Melania has many close friends. Their loner instincts filter into their own marriage.”
That includes the separate bedrooms both at the White House and whenever they travel, or how they’ll often be in the same building but not the same room.
They also seem to love each other, according to people who witnessed their early courtship, and others who have seen their relationship in the White House go from frosty to warm again.
What emerges is a picture of personal ambition similar to Trump’s. In 1999, when he ran for president on the Reform Party ticket, she gave interviews musing about becoming the next Jackie O. Later, she echoed Trump’s calls for then-president Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate, an alignment with the “birther” attacks primarily driven by Trump.
“There is ample evidence that from the very beginning,” Jordan writes, “Melania not only accepted and embraced Trump’s political aspirations but was also an encouraging partner.”
According to Roger Stone, the Trump mentor who is set to go to prison for 40 months on convictions ranging from witness tampering to lying to investigators with the Mueller Report, Melania always encouraged Trump to run for president. “She’s the one who ultimately said: ‘You know, Donald, stop talking about running for president and do it. … And if you run, you’re going to win,’ ” Stone told Jordan.
On the campaign and in the White House, Melania has been Trump’s sounding board. Christie said Melania was always Trump’s first phone call when he got on a plane after a rally he knew had been televised. He’d ask what she thought, and, said Chris Christie, “She always had commentary to give him, and I think that tells a lot about what he thinks of her.”
She was a key reason Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate, after Trump arranged a weekend for Melania to get to know him and his wife, Karen. She argued Pence would be a better choice than Christie or Newt Gingrich. “She believed that he would be content in a No. 2 spot and not gun for the top job,” Jordan writes, “which was something she could not say about the other two.”
Her influence showed when she issued a rare statement of condemnation about deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, which resulted in the adviser’s termination.
Had the coronavirus not forced their cancellation, she would have done her first solo fundraisers for the 2020 campaign in March. “She has told people she wants to win reelection,” Jordan writes.
Many of her moves of late point in that direction, from placing the Medal of Freedom around talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh’s neck to clapping along as Trump called the FBI “scum” in his speech after his acquittal from impeachment charges.
Observers in the White House had noticed an uptick in her mood by mid-2018 that might account for her being so willing to fight for a second term. According to three people close to Trump, Jordan writes, Melania had finally renegotiated the prenup to her liking. She’d already been looking out for Barron’s future by making sure he had dual citizenship in Slovenia, which will position him to work in Europe for the Trump Organization when he comes of age.
Now, she’d made sure he wasn’t shut out of the family business. Jordan writes: “She wanted proof in writing that when it came to financial opportunities and inheritance, Barron would be treated as more of an equal to Trump’s oldest three children.”