The former first lady is reportedly looking for office space in Palm Beach, Florida

By Virginia Chamlee
January 29, 2021 04:10 PM
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Melania Trump plans to start an office in Palm Beach, Florida, in part to "maintain 'Be Best,' " according to a CNN report days after she left the White House.

The former first lady's "Be Best" initiative was her signature undertaking during husband Donald Trump's presidency — focusing (some said hypocritically) on children's welfare issues, such as cyberbullying, though it was also criticized for being thin on specific solutions.

CNN reports that Mrs. Trump's post-White House staff will include three familiar staffers: Hayley D'Antuono, who previously served as her director of operations and trip supervisor; Mary Finzer, who previously managed Trump's "gift closet;" and Marcia Kelly, a former unpaid senior adviser in the White House.

Sources told the network that the team will first work remotely and out of the Trumps' private Mar-a-Lago Club, though the former first lady, 50, is looking for a separate office space in Palm Beach.

Earlier this week, President Trump, 74, announced the launch of his own post-White House "office," with an email blast to reporters promising future updates on his political work. Other details were not released.

He and the former first lady left Washington, D.C., for Mar-a-Lago early on Jan. 20 — skipping Joe Biden's inauguration in an unusual break with tradition. Before the deadly rioting at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6, Trump had been adamant in falsely claiming he had not lost the election.

Since arriving in Palm Beach, the Trumps have largely kept a low profile. The former president's favorite social media platforms previously banned him in the wake of the Capitol insurrection.

The couple is being advised by a handful of aides from White House and campaign, PEOPLE understands. (Representatives did not comment Friday on the reporting about Mrs. Trump's new work.)

President Trump is also preparing for his unprecedented second impeachment trial next month and, earlier this week, met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a show of his continuing relevance to the conservative base.

Melania Trump
Melania Trump
| Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

News of Mrs. Trump's new endeavor comes days after the town of Palm Beach confirmed it was reviewing whether the family could legally make their residence at Mar-a-Lago, in light of an agreement signed by the former president in 1993.

The use agreement he signed after he converted his former residence into the private club stated that no members would stay there for longer than seven days at a time.

But even a cursory review of President Trump's travel in recent years shows he has flouted that rule multiple times.

A group of Palm Beach residents has lobbied local officials to examine the issue.

"It's a legal matter. It's a contract," Palm Beach Town Manager Kirk Blouin told PEOPLE this week. "We have attorneys that prepared [the use agreement] for the town ... obviously it was prepared many, many years ago. So because it's a legal matter, it is being reviewed."

Following the launch of her "Be Best" initiative while in the White House, Mrs. Trump said she was okay with the criticism, telling attendees at a 2018 conference, "It is not news or surprising to me that critics and the media have chosen to ridicule me for speaking out on this issue, and that's okay."

"I remain committed to tackling this topic because it will provide a better world for our children," she continued, as reported by the Associated Press. "And I hope that, like I do, you will consider using their negative words as motivation to do all you can to bring awareness and understanding about responsible online behavior."

Donald Trump
From left: Melania Trump and Donald Trump exit Air Force One at the Palm Beach International Airport on the way to their Mar-a-Lago Club not long before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president on Jan. 20.
| Credit: Noam Galai/Getty

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff — a close aide to the first lady in the East Wing before being dismissed in 2018, after which she spoke scathingly about the family and said she had been scapegoated — told PEOPLE last year that "Be Best" could have been a far richer project focused on children's needs.

"She [the first lady] had the scientific evidence-based research in her hands and her office took it, ripped it up, turned it into — I don't know what they hell they turned it into," Wolkoff said, adding, "She could have been the voice about all these different programs as opposed to what it ends up being."

A Gallup poll showed President Trump left office with his lowest approval rating ever, at 34 percent.

A CNN poll found that Mrs. Trump's approval rating was similarly low, with 47 percent of people saying they had an unfavorable view of the first lady right before she left office.