The first lady also said the media should give her “a fucking break” over Donald Trump’s widely condemned child separations policy at the southern border.
As James Comey once almost said – and Donald Trump might have repeated after Bob Woodward played their conversations to the nation – “Lordy, there are tapes.”
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is the author of Melania & Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady, a tell-all about her relationship with and work for Trump which was published in August. Before release, it was reported that Wolkoff had taped her former friend.
On Thursday, a little over a month from election day, she released such a recording to CNN.
“They say I’m complicit,” Melania Trump says of critics of her husband. “I’m the same like him, I support him. I don’t say enough, I don’t do enough where I am.
“I’m working … my ass off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a fuck about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?”
Media figures were quick to remark on the irony of the first lady questioning her role in decorating the White House for the festive season, given her husband’s eager promotion of the so-called “war on Christmas”, a rightwing saw much pushed on Fox News which says liberals want to take the joys of the holidays away.
But the conversation with Wolkoff, recorded in summer 2018, also assumes a darker hue.
“OK,” the first lady says, “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 fucking break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I cannot go, I was trying to get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn’t have a chance – [it] needs to go through the process and through the law.”
The “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant families caused huge controversy in 2018. Donald Trump backed down but the effects are still felt by many families.
Saying Barack Obama did the same thing is a common rightwing talking point. Separations did happen under Obama, but not as a blanket policy and not at all after a judge intervened.
On the tapes, the first lady also doubts claims migrants are held in poor conditions, saying: “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 it but they didn’t have that in their own countries, they sleep on the floor.
“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.”
She also says migrant children are coached by their parents to say they are in danger, because “they could easily stay in Mexico but they don’t want to stay in Mexico because Mexico doesn’t take care of them the same as America does”.
In a statement, Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the first lady, said: “Secretly taping the first lady and willfully breaking a [non-disclosure agreement] 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.”
Wolkoff, an events planner from New York high society, fell out with the first lady and left the White House amid investigations of fundraising for Trump’s inauguration. In February 2018, the New York Times reported that from $107m raised for the event, a company started by Wolkoff received nearly $26m. Wolkoff was paid $1.62m, the paper said, of which she banked $500,000.
Wolkoff left the White House, according to the Times, because of fallout from its report including a government watchdog accusing the inaugural committee of “fiscal mismanagement at its worst”.
In September, Wolkoff told MSNBC she made the tapes as a form of defense.
“Melania and the White House had accused me of criminal activity and publicly shamed and fired me and made me their scapegoat. At that moment in time, that’s when I pressed record. She was no longer my friend and she was willing to let them take me down.”
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