"We're going to do this together," Melania told Donald Trump, according to ex-staffer Cliff Sims, "and you're going to be a great president."
Like her husband, First Lady Melania Trump is making history in the White House. Unlike President Donald Trump, she’s doing so by remaining private and secluded in her role as the first lady — making her different than any president’s wife before her.
In his White House memoir, Team of Vipers, out now, ex-staffer Cliff Sims reveals insider details about Melania and her relationship with the president — some of which counterbalance reports of marital strife that have plagued the couple since the 2016 presidential campaign.
One particularly moving moment occurred on election night, Sims writes.
“The man who is never at a loss for words was rendered speechless by the verdict of history,” writes Sims, who was on the communications team as a special assistant to Trump until 2018 after working on Trump’s campaign. “And he looked, just for the briefest of moments, vulnerable.”
He continues: “Sensing this was Melania Trump. Melania was never the person outside observers seemed convinced that she was — a reluctant and put-upon spouse who just wanted to escape him. For good or ill, she was in it with him all the way.”
Sims recalls that the first lady squeezed the then president-elect’s hand.
“We’re going to do this together,” Melania told her husband, according to the book, “and you’re going to be a great president.”
This moment stands in direct opposition to the report that the first lady “was in tears — and not of joy” when Donald Trump won the presidential election in November 2016. The claim first appeared in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, which was adamantly denied by the president and his team.
The White House has pushed back against such allegations, but that hasn’t stopped speculation from swirling around the status of the first couple’s relationship. Since coming to Washington, D.C., they have weathered allegations of extra-marital affairs, endless online scrutiny of Melania’s habit of physically avoiding her husband and more than a dozen allegations that the president has sexually assaulted or abused women, all of which he denies.
Though Sims is critical of the president and the chaos of the White House in Team of Vipers, he has no such qualms about fully defending the first lady. (The White House has not responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
Upon its publication, President Trump dismissed the claims made in Team of Vipers.
“A low-level staffer that I hardly knew named Cliff Sims wrote yet another boring book based on made up stories and fiction,” Trump wrote on Tuesday. “He pretended to be an insider when in fact he was nothing more than a gofer. He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess!”
In his book, Sims confronts the speculation about the Trumps’ marriage, first by sharing the intimate moment from election night, and later by describing Melania as Donald’s “fiercest protector.”
“I know there are many outside the White House who have become invested in the mythology, often backed by anonymous sources, that Melania secretly hated her husband, or was planning to divorce him, or had some business arrangements that kept them together,” Sims writes.
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“As with every marriage, they had their good days and bad days, often centering around times when accusations of past infidelity were in the news,” he continues. “But from what I saw she never wavered in her support, and she was serious about her official role as first fady and her self-appointed role as her husband’s fiercest protector.”
According to Sims, Melania “spent hours each day” tracking news stories surrounding the White House. He writes that she was upset with comments Mike Dubke, the new communications director, made to Politico about the administration. She was the one who brought the article to the president’s attention and Dubke promptly blamed the quotes on “leakers,” Sims writes. (Only a few months into his position, Dubke announced his resignation in May 2017, at the same time rumors were circulating about a Trump staff shakeup, per CNN.)
When Melania wasn’t defending her husband, Sims writes that she “obsessed over every detail of White House social events.” During the 2017 White House Easter Egg Roll, he writes that “her lips formed into a judgmental frown” when she saw a junior staffer dressed as the Easter Bunny.
“That needs to be taken off,” she told the staffer, per the book.
“He was wearing a light blue vest, and for whatever reason the color or the fabric intruded on the first lady’s milieu,” Sims writes. “With seconds to go, staffers jumped into action, scrambling to undress the white bunny in full view of a slightly perplexed president.”
“That’s much better,” Melania said, according to Sims.
The first lady may be eager to participate in White House social events, but they haven’t saved her from criticism. She’s been often attacked for continuing to remain with the president who champions anti-immigrant policies (ironically, she hails from Slovenia) and rhetoric that is often offensive towards women. Melania came under fire directly after parts of her speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 sounded very similar to the words of then-aspiring First Lady Michelle Obama.
Even after the controversy died down, she continued to be nervous about making speeches. In Team of Vipers, Sims recalls when the first couple prepared to record the 2017 Christmas video message.
“[Melania] was a bit nervous ahead of video recordings and public appearances in which she would speak,” he writes. “She occasionally expressed concerns that her accent was too strong and made her hard to understand. So she practiced relentlessly for any speaking role she needed to play.”
According to the book, for the recording session the president “was clearly trying to impress” Melania.
“He was focused. He wanted to nail his lines on the first take,” Sims writes. “When it was her turn to speak and she’d make a mistake, he’d encourage her.”
“‘You sound like you’re from New York, honey,'” Trump told Melania, per the book. “‘Can’t even tell you have an accent.'”