LJUBLJANA, Slovenia–In August 2016, just a year ago, Nataša Pirc Musar had the first of many talks over the phone with Melania Trump.
An American lawyer had gotten in touch with her about representing the first lady of the United States-to-be in her native Slovenia, where she’d grown up.
“Melania and I had a discussion,” said Pirc Musar. “I informed her about what was going on.” Some people were publishing scandalous stories about the former model; others were starting to try to use her fame for their merchandising–even naming a cake after her.
“She said to me that she did not want to sue anybody, that she was not doing that for money, she obviously does not need it,” Pirc Musar told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. “She just wanted me to set [limits] about what is allowed and what is not allowed.”
There was one particularly serious reason for Mrs. Trump to hire an attorney in Slovenia. A magazine there called Suzy, known for writing up the lives of celebrities, published an article that month saying that in the 1990s, Melania Knavs (sometimes Germanized as Knauss), as she was then known, worked for a modeling agency run by Paolo Zampolli in New York that “operated as an escort agency for wealthy clients.” A few weeks later, Pirc Musar and her client filed a lawsuit against Suzy magazine.
But by then the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom had published a story with similar allegations and quoted a source from Slovenia. “It was in the Daily Mail U.K. and Daily Mail USA—in 10 seconds it was all around the planet,” Musar said. “As a woman I understand her—I understand her as a human being—to say these nasty words about a lady!”
The Suzy magazine article by journalist Tomaz Mihelic sounded like bad news for Melania Trump. “The Daily Mail apologized that they had been wrong, they withdrew the article and wrote an apology, but here in Slovenia they [Suzy magazine] have never apologized,” Nataša Pirc Musar said. “And that was why Mrs. Trump said that ‘I have to go with this procedure to the end, because I would not tolerate that somebody was spreading such a lie all over the planet.’”
In October 2016, they filed a lawsuit against Mihelic in a court in Ljubljana. It accuses him of defamation and of making false and unverified statements against Melania. The case is still in the courts.
Many wondered why, of all Slovenian lawyers, Mrs. Trump decided to hire Pirc Musar. Before opening the Musar & Partners law firm in 2015, Pirc Musar worked as a television news journalist and presenter on the national TV channels, and even had some experience working for CNN. She was one of only a few lawyers in Slovenia who had high-profile references. In 2009, she was named Slovenia’s “information commissioner” by the country’s president.
In the year since she started working for Mrs. Trump—whom she has never met face to face—Pirc Musar has had to deal with numerous cases.
Everything happened quickly, the lawyer said. “Basically overnight, as soon as she became the first lady, lots of people started selling products bearing her name, using her photos, Trump burgers, and so on,” Pirc Musar said as we sat in her office in a modern district this city. Her desk is by a glass wall, and Pirc Musar, 49, was wearing dark glasses. The wall is decorated with an image of an owl. “I like wise owls,” she said. “I have hundreds of them in my collection.” She smiled.
American magazines have been digging into Melania Trump’s marriage and personal life, looking for her former friends, employers, colleagues—anybody who could explain what she was like when she was still Melania Knavs,, before she got together with The Donald in the late 1990s.
A photographer, Matthew Atanian, was Melania Knavs’ roommate in the Zeckendorf Towers on Union Square in New York City before Melania met Trump. Atanian told The Daily Beast that Melania’s lawyers banned him from publishing any photographs of young Melania. “All I had was good wishes for her in the interviews, then I get nasty letters from her lawyers threatening to sue me and bankrupt me if I publish any photos of her,” Atanian told The Daily Beast. “That is not how you treat a friend.”
Melania Trump was upset, her attorney said, about a book by Bojan Požar and Igor Omerza, that came out last year in Slovenia: Melania Trump—The Inside Story: The Potential First Lady. The authors interviewed several men who claimed that once upon a time, before 1992, the year Melania left Slovenia at the age of 22, they happened to be her boyfriends. The first lady denied any personal connection with the men, but decided not to sue the book’s authors, the attorney said.
One of the men interviewed for the book, Jure Zorcic, was especially talkative. “His story about relations with Melania Trump was the original reason why I decided to write my book,” Požar told The Daily Beast in an interview in downtown Ljubljana. “He told me he was surprised that when he met with his former girlfriend in New York, she preferred to speak English with him and not their native Slovenian,” Požar noted. “And now Melania’s lawyer is suing me, but not for the book, but for the document I published proving that Victor Knavs [Melania’s father] had been investigated for illegal trade on the black [market] and for tax evasion.” Knavs denies the allegations.
Before Melania Trump hired a lawyer in Slovenia, Zorcic gave several interviews to TV crews and newspaper journalists, including ABC News, showing the street where he said he met with Melania, the bars the two allegedly visited, claiming that she was “never a typical Slovenian girl.”
But the U.S. first lady decided to silence the storyteller. “I explicitly invited that guy Jure Zorcic here to this office, because Melania wanted him to sign a paper [saying] that he is not to talk to media anymore,” Pirc Musar said. “He knew her and she admitted that she had known him, but he was never her boyfriend.”
Last month, Zorcic said on the phone with The Daily Beast that he once was “Melania’s boyfriend,” but he did not show up on time for the agreed interview with us.
Pirc Musar said she had also tried to invite one more storyteller, Peter Butoln, to her office, “but he was not willing to come at all.”
But the Mihelic article in Suzy is what really rankled. He “wrote three pages saying that she was an escort for all [sorts of] men,” Pirc Musar said. The lawsuit against him is due to go to trial in early November.
Meanwhile, the little city of Sevnica, Melania Trump’s hometown, has developed something of a cult around her persona, and merchants sometimes run afoul of her rights. The billboard and honey jars with Melania’s face have disappeared, but “Melania” cakes, “M” apple pies, and products dubbed “First Lady” are still on sale.
Pirc Musar says she has spent hours on the phone with FLOTUS discussing different legal issues involving personal rights in Slovenia. The day the attorney and the client discussed the cake, Pirc Musar said she felt Melania smiling on the other end of the line. “We had constant discussions over the phone and she said, ‘If it’s only the cake, come on! I have nothing against it.’”
Pirc Musar proudly pointed out that she was one of a few people in Slovenia who could have long discussions with her client in Slovenian, which Melania Trump still spoke fluently, after 25 years outside of her country, she said.
“Whenever I speak with her she really sounds like a soft, nice lady; and what I really admire about her, she is very well-organized—if she promised to call at 4 o’clock, I can check the watch, she calls sharply at 4 o’clock,” Pirc Musar told The Daily Beast, insisting that Melania Trump had a hard “24/7 job” and that she was honored to bear the title of the first lady.
Nobody should publish humiliating stories about her client in Slovenia, Pirc Musar said. “This is Melania Trump, a person who cannot hide from anyone on Earth!”
Will Melania Trump be personally present at the court hearing in November? The first lady’s lawyer does not know.
Pirc Musar says many people came to the law firm saying that since Pirc Musar was good for Melania Trump, she should be surely good for them. And, as she notes, “You can imagine all sorts of people asking me to pass this and that to Melania Trump, ‘Can you arrange a meeting please?’”
The relations between largely liberal Slovenia and Melania Trump have not been easy, thanks to President Trump’s political and personal views. A small book titled The Slovenian Side of the Story is on sale in Sevnica. “A minority of people on this side of the Atlantic wanted the election to turn out this way,” says the book’s author, Sandi Gorisek. “This might be the reason why Melania’s parents frequently fly to the USA, yet she is not at all very anxious to return to her hometown.”
But the first lady’s lawyer in Slovenia once again defended Melania Trump: “She is the best part of Donald Trump’s presidency, the soft part, the charming lady who could move rocks if she wanted to.”