‘Free, Melania’: 6 Takeaways – The New York Times


Where the first lady, Melania Trump, is concerned, theories abound.

From morning-show hosts to Twitter pundits to protest poster artists, everyone has an opinion: Mrs. Trump is a prisoner in her own home. Mrs. Trump rules the roost. Mrs. Trump is complicit, clueless, estranged from her husband, advises her husband, loves Washington, hates Washington, just wants to be left alone. If the current administration is a Rorschach test, the first lady is a splash of ink across the White House.

A member of the White House press corps focused on the first lady and the Trump family, the CNN reporter Kate Bennett may be uniquely qualified to weigh in. Now she shares her own theories in an unauthorized biography, “Free, Melania,” which comes out this week.

The book does not include an explanation of the comma in its title, nor any discussion of the Trumps’ 13-year-old son, Barron, except as a factor in his mother’s decision-making. (In an author’s note, Bennett writes, “I don’t believe being born to public figures should render a child fair game for public scrutiny.”) But “Free, Melania” does provide insight into the first lady’s life, opinions and relationships (she is well liked by her staffers, with Bennett describing the East Wing as “the White House’s tightest ship”). Here are six of Bennett’s revelations.

“Having covered her for as long as I have, each thing she does has meaning to it, even the clothing she wears,” Bennett writes.

First there was the pink pussy-bow blouse Mrs. Trump wore to an October 2016 debate after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape where her husband bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. Then there was the white pantsuit at the 2018 State of the Union (Bennett writes, “I have a theory that when the Trumps are unhappy with each other, Melania wears menswear — because Trump notoriously likes to see women in tight, short, ubersexy and feminine dresses”); and the eye-catching millinery — the colonial-style pith helmet in Nairobi, the white hat in England.

But no single item of clothing has inspired more discussion than the $39 army-green Zara parka Mrs. Trump wore on a June 2018 trip to the border — the one with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” printed on the back. There have been many takes, but Bennett’s is that it was directed at the president’s daughter, Ivanka. “I believed, and still do, that the jacket was a facetious jab at Ivanka and her near-constant attempts to attach herself for positive administration talking points,” Bennett writes.

“Cordial, not close,” is how it was described to Bennett by “someone who has spent ample time with both women.” Bennett takes issue with the way, early on in the administration, Mrs. Trump was labeled by the media as a “vapid-model trophy wife” while Ivanka got to be a “savvy career mom.”

Bennett writes that Ivanka’s international travel rankles her stepmother: “The trips were, according to a source, too close for comfort for Melania, who thought Ivanka was invading her turf.”

Mrs. Trump unveiled her child-focused kindness campaign, “Be Best,” over a year ago. Here is Bennett’s assessment of the first lady’s signature initiative: “To this day it has no publicly stated framework, timeline or markers for progress … The likelihood that it will ever have the impact of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign or Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No is slim to none.”

According to a trusted source, Bennett writes, “Melania’s medical issue was indeed not minor — and that an embolization of a growth of some sort, small or large, when attached to the kidney, as hers might have been, made for a dangerous and complicated procedure.”

Bennett adds: “Couple that with the amount of pain she had apparently been in, according to close friends, and how long she had been in pain prior to the surgery, and there was concern that if her recuperation was not careful and extended, her type of condition could possibly result in the loss of her kidney.”

At one point Bennett was sitting in the back section of a C-32 military jet that Mrs. Trump and Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, were also taking. From that vantage, Bennett remembers “watching someone who looked a lot like Karen Pence, moving from the section ahead of ours, typically where aide and advance teams sit, and head toward the back lavatory.”

Mrs. Trump did not bring Mrs. Pence into her spacious cabin, nor did she remove her four-inch heels when the two landed in Texas; as a result, the first lady towered “almost comically” over the second lady. (Mrs. Trump usually wears a low heel or flat when walking or being photographed with someone of modest stature.)

While the president sleeps in the master bedroom on the second level of the White House residence — he requested a lock for his door — Mrs. Trump stays on the third floor, in the two-room space formerly occupied by Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, Bennett reports.

Mrs. Trump also has a “glam room,” where she does her hair and makeup, and a private gym with a Pilates machine.

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