Soon the president turned his attention not to his wife's work with "Be Best" but a lengthy new New York Times investigation

By Adam Carlson
May 08, 2019 11:50 AM
First Lady Melania Trump celebrating the anniversary of her Be Best initiative at the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday

On Tuesday morning First Lady Melania Trump convened a group of political, business and community leaders to tout the one-year anniversary of her “Be Best” awareness campaign to improve the lives of children.

At the celebration, in the White House’s Rose Garden, Mrs. Trump described how her initiative would expand in its second year and announced she would be taking her second solo trip abroad in the fall.

President Donald Trump — on a break from a barrage of tweets about his administration, the economy and his enemies — watched from the front row but did not speak. At the event’s conclusion, shortly before noon, he and the first lady walked back together to the Oval Office.

Within hours, however, he was back online. Soon the president turned his attention not to his wife’s work with “Be Best” but a lengthy New York Times investigation showing he racked up more than a billion dollars in business losses in the ’80s and ’90s.

It was the latest example of the split-screen phenomenon that has dogged the Trump administration from the start: some bit of good news almost immediately having to contend for attention with the bad, controversial or unusual.

The unorthodox and divisive style that helped the president eke out a victory in 2016 is also often at the root of the headlines that swallow up his administration’s more normal daily work.

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On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump defended significant lost sums cited by the Times in a roundabout way, casting them as “massive write offs and depreciation” while simultaneously claiming the Times piece was “highly inaccurate Fake News.”

Trump’s perceived acumen as a billionaire businessman has been key to his success as a reality TV personality, author and as president and was a central part of his campaign pitch to voters in 2016.

And while he has previously described his economic struggles in the ’90s as the result of a larger recession, according to the Times, Trump’s tax information from that period “paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.”

The information spans 10 years, from 1985 to 1994.

The Trump family finances, based around their privately held Trump Organization, are largely secret from the world, though there have been notable leaks. The president has steadfastly refused to release his tax information, shattering a longstanding political norm.

Critics, including Congressional Democrats who have vowed to use their new House majority to probe Trump’s business ties, argue such secrecy can give cover to unethical financial arrangements — possibly with foreign governments.

From left: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump
Evan Vucci/Shutterstock

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All of this, however, was still just a scandal on the horizon when on Tuesday Mrs. Trump appeared in the Rose Garden to talk about “Be Best,” which has focused on anti-cyberbullying and online safety, the opioid epidemic and promoting well-being.

“I have always said that as a mother and as first lady, it concerns me that today’s fast-paced and ever-connected world can make children less prepared to express or manage their emotions, causing them to turn to forms of destructive actions such as bullying, unhealthy habits, risky online behavior, drug abuse and addiction or even suicide,” Mrs. Trump said on Tuesday.

“My office has spent the past year listening to and learning from children, parents, medical professionals, teachers, leaders in technology and social media and many others who have a stake in the vital issues that can affect the next generation,” she continued.

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“Be Best” doesn’t lobby for particular legislative solutions. Instead, Mrs. Trump has described it as an initiative to raise awareness and fuel a national discussion, and the program has highlighted the work of other groups with similar goals.

“Be Best” has not been without controversy: While Mrs. Trump spoke out about cyberbullying, critics  pointed to her husband’s habit of personally denigrating his foes on Twitter.

The Trumps celebrating one year of the first lady's "Be Best" campaign
Evan Vucci/Shutterstock
The Trumps celebrating the anniversary of the first lady's "Be Best" campaign
Evan Vucci/Shutterstock
First Lady Melania Trump (left) at the White House celebration of one year of her "Be Best" campaign
Andrew Harnik/Shutterstock

On Tuesday, Mrs. Trump noted she had traveled to 15 states, nine other countries, participated in 18 roundtables or briefings and met with 30 foreign leaders or their spouses.

She said she would take a second international tour in the fall but did not specify where. (She visited Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi last year.)

“In my time as first lady of the United States I will continue to make every effort to promote the many successful well-being and character education programs that exist today,” Mrs. Trump said.

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She said she was “excited” to reveal the United States Agency for International Development had created a “Be Best” ambassador position to liaise with her office.

“I will continue speaking with and learning from leaders in the technology industry in order to raise awareness around the importance of safe and positive online behaviors. I will continue to work with those who are fighting the epidemic and stigma of drug addiction,” she said. “And I will continue to travel and speak to children directly about some of the challenges they face every day.”

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