Donald and Melania Trump may not sleep in the same bedroom, as has been reported time and time again, but Washington Post correspondent Mary Jordan reveals one thing the first lady shares with her husband: “modeling tips.”
If the president looks disheveled and bloated in every photo and walks with a rickety gait, it is not for lack of Melania trying, Jordan writes in the new biography The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump (Simon & Schuster).
“Before a photo shoot, she has been heard telling Trump to slightly lift and extend his chin,” the book reveals. “At the 2018 state dinner she organized for the French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, she was overheard ‘stage managing’ Trump’s movements, as one person described it. Melania also installed professional lights in a White House room where the Trumps take many of their official photos.”
Melania may dole out suggestions on how Trump can use his tongue to “tighten and define” facial muscles while smiling, and how to look thinner in photos. Of course, as the evidence shows, her husband might not always follow the former model’s honed rules. Melania may be the teacher, but she has said it is “up to him” as a student to deliver on the lessons.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has taken a crack at nailing down the inscrutable first lady with this new biography, picking up where last year’s Free, Melania by CNN correspondent Kate Bennett left off. Jordan traces Melania’s many lives, from young Slovenian student to working commercial model and eventual marriage to Trump.
Excerpts from the book made waves last week when the Post reported on one of its juicer revelations: In 2017, Melania delayed her move to the White House while renegotiating the terms of her prenup. It is one of the best bits of the biography, laid out ahead.
Melania’s fierce protection of her 14 year-old son, Barron, is quite evident, and she closely guards his privacy. One thing she also looks out for, according to Jordan, is making sure he gets what’s due from the Trump Organization.
“During the presidential campaign, Melania felt that a lot had changed since she signed her prenup,” Jordan writes. “She had been with [Trump] a long time—longer than any other woman. She believed she made crucial contributions to his success. There was talk that Trump likely wouldn’t return to overseeing the Trump Organization after running the country, and Melania wanted to ensure that Barron got his rightful share of inheritance, particularly if Ivanka took the reins of the family business.”
So, as Barron finished up his 2017 school year in New York, while her husband began his presidency, Melania stayed in New York to work on securing a “more generous financial deal.”
Jordan’s sources note that they are unsure of the terms of the new prenup but added that “it was not simply more money.”
Melania, whom Jordan calls a “sharp negotiator,” wanted to lock down the promise that “Barron would be treated as more of an equal to Trump’s oldest three children. Among the items under discussion was involvement in the family business, the Trump Organization, and ownership of Trump property.
“One person aware of the negotiations noted that Barron has Slovenian citizenship, so he could be especially well positioned if the young teenager ever wanted to be involved in a Trump business in Europe. Melania wanted—and got—options for him.”
Citing the NYPD’s “conservative” estimate, Melania’s decision to remain in the city while brokering her terms cost $125,000 a day in security fees, according to Jordan.
Relationship with Ivanka
Melania’s familial loyalty does not apparently extend to her step-children. Jordan reports that the first lady refers to Ivanka as “The Princess” behind her back. As Jordan writes, Ivanka would “[tell] classmates that her father’s girlfriend spoke as much as a painting on the wall.”
When Ivanka became an adviser to her father, the book notes, she sought out space in the East Wing, which historically houses the first lady’s team. “Among other proposals, Ivanka suggested renaming the ‘First Lady’s Office’ the ‘First Family Office,’” Jordan writes. “Melania did not allow that to happen.”
Sandra Diaz, a former housekeeper at Trump’s residence at Bedminster, his private golf club, also noted “strained relations” between the two women.
“[Melania and Ivanka] seemed to be competitive with each other,” Jordan writes. “Diaz recalled Ivanka telling her to come clean her house at exactly the same time Melania wanted her house cleaned. She said it seemed like a deliberate power play.”
“People cross Melania at their own risk”
As the book states, Trump had the three names on his vice president shortlist meet with Melania right before choosing a running mate. She spoke with Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Pence.
“Afterward, she gave Trump her assessment,” Jordan writes. “Mike had a big advantage over Gingrich and Christie: he was not too ambitious. She believed that he would be content in a number-two spot and not gun for the top job, which was something she could not say about the other two.”
“It was beyond consulting,” a source said. “She thought [Pence] would be a loyal adviser, not an alpha.” Melania also reportedly appreciated that when asked to “give his opinion of the other contenders, Pence highlighted their strengths” instead of weaknesses. Both Gingrich and Christie had pointed out their competitors’ flaws.
“Melania took note of their ability to unload on a rival and urged her husband to pick Pence,” Jordan writes. “She thought that he was the most likely to stay in his lane, step aside, and let Trump be Trump.”
“People cross Melania at their own risk—and that risk is, ‘Off with your head,’” a former White House official told Jordan. “I’m not kidding... You are gone if she doesn’t like you.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel learned this lesson firsthand, when a fiery statement led to her dismissal in 2018. The two reportedly had several disagreements while planning for Melania’s much-discussed visit to Africa.
During that visit, the first lady’s staffers got drunk during an overnight on the island of Cyprus. “Word had passed from Secret Service agents to others in the White House that at least one young staffer was so inebriated that she climbed up on the bar and, according to some accounts, performed a somersault,” Jordan writes.
“Ricardel weighed in and told people that Cyprus, located near Syria and Lebanon, was a particularly bad place for U.S. officials to get hammered.”
Melania’s staffers apparently thought “Ricardel was making too much of the event... They viewed her as condescending and they did not appreciate her letting it be known that she thought they should focus less on photo ops for Melania in Africa and more on U.S. foreign policy objectives.”
In November, Stephanie Grisham issued a statement that read, “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” A day later, she was out of a job.
Disappearing model photos
In July 2016, the New York Post resurfaced nude photos of Melania from a 1996 shoot with the French magazine Max. The portraits were taken by Jarl Alé de Basseville, and some of the more provocative snaps included ones taken with the Swedish model Emma Eriksson. The images appeared in print alongside lesbian erotica written by Ann Scott.
Though the Post found the photos nearly 20 years later, other images of the first lady during her model years have been scrubbed from the internet. Images of Melania modeling Concord watches in various states of undress “are no longer easily found online,” Jordan writes.
“It is not clear why they seem to have vanished, but celebrities often hire “reputation managers” to remove or bury unflattering or embarrassing photos and stories,” she adds. “Several photographers who were hired to shoot Melania wearing bikinis, lingerie, or less say that they have been warned by people representing Trump not to print or sell the photos.”
Matthew Atanian, a roommate of Melania’s in the ’90s and a photographer, “said he was warned not to publish photos he snapped around in their apartment, even though, in his opinion, Melania looks great in them.”
Dylan Jones, who edited British GQ, said the Trump campaign has tried and failed to get the magazine to stop using nude photos it took of Melania in 2000 for a “Bond Girl”-themed spread. He told Jordan those requests were “obviously the dumbest thing to do because it just encourages me to publish.”
Viktor vs. Donald
Melania is close with her Slovenian parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, who have become naturalized citizens of the United States even while their son-in-law rages on about the evils of “chain migration.”
At 78, Viktor Knavs is only four years older than Donald Trump. According to Jordan, the two “bear a resemblance.” But there is no love shared between the two, the book states. According to Bedminster housekeepers, “Trump and Viktor Knavs weren’t close.”
They remember an argument between the two that began when Amalija found a red hat “in a pile where Trump had placed some items he no longer wanted to wear.” Viktor made the mistake of wearing it to play golf.
“Employees knew that Trump had an unwritten rule that only he could wear his distinctive red caps—making him unmistakable anywhere on the property,” Jordan writes. “When he saw Melania’s father in the cap, he became furious and demanded that he take it off and leave. The caddies and housekeepers who saw this scene unfold said it was an unforgettable moment.”
“That fucking guy,” Viktor reportedly said when he came back inside. “Diaz [the housekeeper] said Melania’s mother tried to calm her husband down, but recalled that Melania remained silent.”
“The most difficult moments”
The book states that Melania was not fully aware of Trump’s past affairs until Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels came forward with their stories about having sex with Trump.
Jordan describes these allegations as “the most difficult moments” for Melania during the campaign. “At one point... she checked into a hotel to get away from her husband,” Jordan writes.
The book opens with Trump and his staff listening to the infamous Access Hollywood tape, released right before the 2016 election, where Trump brags about “grabbing” women “by the pussy.”
According to Chris Christie, who was in the room, Melania “was the elephant not in the room... He turned red; red was coming up his neck to his ears. I think he understood early on that it was going to create ramifications for him at home, too.”
Damage control seemed to begin with getting Melania’s support. “If Melania walked out, the campaign was all but over,” Jordan writes. “If she couldn’t tolerate her husband’s behavior, why should female voters?” Trump seemed “frightened to go back to face his wife,” who was only a short elevator ride upstairs.
Melania refused to appear on television with her husband in support, instead demanding she release her own statement.
How many languages?
According to Team Trump, Melania speaks five languages (Slovenian, French, Italian, English, German). But Jordan writes that she was unable to “independently confirm the extent of Melania’s language abilities.” The White House did not respond to her requests for evidence to back up Melania’s claims.
“The videos that do exist of [Melania] speaking to children in France and Italy show her using only a few basic and universally known words like ‘bonjour’ and ‘ciao,’ before switching quickly to English,” Jordan writes. Photographers and agents who worked with Melania during her modeling years say they only conversed in English.
The exact meaning behind Melania’s “Be Best” initiative has mystified critics since its inception, with people saying the title is grammatically incorrect (not to mention hypocritical, given her husband’s bratty and often abusive tweets). But Melania would not budge on the name.
Simple as it may be, it is something she herself has come up with—unlike her 2016 Republican National Convention speech, which contained parts plagiarized from remarks made by Michelle Obama.
Her team allegedly suggested Children First, but the first lady “[said] it sounded too much like her husband’s America First Slogan.”
“Some wondered why Melania hadn’t called the program Be the Best or Be Your Best,” Jordan writes. “But Melania had made up her mind, saying: “At least they won’t say I plagiarized it!”