The future first lady "was the elephant not in the room," Chris Christie recalled

By Sam Gillette
June 16, 2020 05:54 PM
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From left: First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump
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In a detailed new biography — one that the White House has dismissed as "fiction" — Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist Mary Jordan delves into the life of First Lady Melania Trump.

Early in The Art of Her Deal, released on Tuesday, Jordan recounts a tense interaction from late 2016 between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and his wife after his campaign team learned of the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

That leaked audio, which caught the future president bragging in 2005 about grabbing women's genitals, sparked a furor against the backdrop of his cratering poll numbers. Multiple Republicans pulled their support while others called on him to leave the race entirely.

According to Jordan's book, Trump's aides understood the importance of Mrs. Trump's response and started watching an old 60 Minutes interview in which Hillary Clinton joined husband Bill Clinton after allegations of an affair started to stain his 1992 presidential campaign.

The Trump campaign team hoped Mrs. Trump, 50, would also show her support by going on air — but she wasn't having it, Jordan writes.

"When Melania eventually joined the strategy session, she had a one-word reply: 'No.' She said she would decide on her own what to do," Jordan writes in her book, which is based on more than 100 interviews. "And right now she was not going on television with her husband."

The biography first started making headlines on Friday with Jordan detailing how, according to her reporting, Mrs. Trump renegotiated her prenuptial agreement with President Trump, 74, in the wake of his 2016 election win.

"Yet another book about Mrs. Trump with false information and sources," Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's spokeswoman and chief of staff, said last week in response to the book. "This book belongs in the fiction genre."

In response to other details reported in the book about Mrs. Trump's relationship with stepdaughter Ivanka Trump, White House spokesman Judd Deere said: "These allegations couldn’t be further from the truth .... Hit pieces like these only serve to conjure non-existent palace-intrigue stories unworthy of the paper they’re printed on."

One thing that can't be classified as fiction is the Access Hollywood tape, which first emerged a one month before the 2016 presidential election.

"You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful— I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait," Trump, then host of The Apprentice, can be heard saying to host Billy Bush in the 2005 tape, recorded during an appearance on the show.

He continued, "And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything."

"Grab them by the p----," Trump said on the tape. "You can do anything."

From left: First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump
SABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty
Simon & Schuster

On Oct. 7, 2016, just weeks before he was set to face Hillary Clinton at the ballot box, Trump and his aides watched the damning video and the presidential candidate "turned red," according to The Art of Her Deal. 

"Trump was quiet. [Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie knew what Trump was dreading: facing Melania," Jordan writes.

"She was the elephant not in the room," Christie told Jordan.

"Trump was so embarrassed that, as one person in the room recalled, 'He turned red; red was coming up his neck to his ears, '" she writes. "'I think he understood early on that it was going to create ramifications for him at home, too.' "

The Access Hollywood tape was recorded while Mrs. Trump was pregnant with their son Barron. To many, its release meant the end of Trump's presidential run.

Following the leak, multiple women came forward with sexual assault allegations against Trump, all of which he has denied. But at the time, his staffers were worried about the fallout with his wife, Jordan writes in the new biography.

"'Everybody was saying, 'You should go upstairs and see Melania. Why don't you go upstairs now and see Melania?' And he was not rushing to go up there," Christie recalled, according to the book. "I said to him, 'It ain't going to get any easier. The longer you wait, it's not going to get any easier.' "

An unnamed source told Jordan: "That night he seemed frightened to go face his wife."

Two hours later, the real-estate tycoon and reality star-turned-politician finally went to visit Mrs. Trump. According to the book, she didn't throw a fit.

Instead, she showed her "fury quietly and deliberately."

"Now you could lose," Mrs. Trump said, according to an unnamed source who heard about the private interaction, per the book. "You could have blown this for us."

Mary Jordan
Simon & Schuster

Disputing some past news reports, Jordan writes that Mrs. Trump encouraged her husband to run for president from the beginning — and, unlike others, thought he could win.

"Melania was a believer. Now she told him his mouth had jeopardized their chance at the White House," Jordan writes. "Trump apologized. He said he didn't mean any of that; it was just his schtick. She left him to stew and retreated to her own bedroom."

After Mrs. Trump refused to do a joint TV interview, she announced she was going to release her own statement. Christie remembers her saying, "I am not going to sit here and pretend that I don't have an opinion," according to the book.

A day later, on October 8, 2016, Mrs. Trump's camp released this:

"The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know," she said. "He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world."

Then-candidate Trump also released a somewhat apologetic response, explaining that the video captured what he called "locker room" talk "many years ago."

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Jordan argues in her new book that, in fact, there's much that unites the first couple — including that both the president and first lady are as conscious of their public image as the other. But Mrs. Trump controls her narrative through privacy and by limiting what she says, in Jordan's view, where her husband is infamously unfiltered and provocative.

"As I reconstructed her journey, I learned that Melania has strengths her husband lacks, but she also shares many of the qualities that landed him in the Oval Office. In that sense Melania is like her husband," Jordan writes. "They are both independent, ambitious, image-conscious, unsentimental, and wary of those outside their inner circle. They are both fighters and survivors and prize loyalty over almost all else."

Jordan also reiterates the importance of Mrs. Trump's oft-said line about her husband: "I don't try to change him."

The author continues: "She has survived by focusing more on the upside of life with Trump than his behavior."

The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump is on sale now.