Melania Trump, America’s media-wary first lady, was finally ready to sit down for her first TV interview as FLOTUS, but she had to go to Africa to do it.
Trump appeared on “Being Melania – The First Lady,” a special edition of ABC’s “20/20” on Friday night (10 p.m. ET/PT) talking with the network’s chief national correspondent and weekend anchor Tom Llamas, who interviewed Trump when he accompanied her on her just-completed first solo international trip touring four countries in Africa.
During the sit-down, Trump was questioned about the status of her relationship and claims of her husband’s infidelity, which she wrote-off as “gossip.” When asked if she loved her husband, she replied: “Yes, we are fine.”
Llamas asked her at one point: “What’s the worst thing you’ve had to read about yourself?”
She replied, “It’s all the things that people say, that I’m not happy in the White House; that I don’t even live there; that I’m miserable in my marriage, that I’m out of touch . . . There are so many things, I don’t even know where to start.”
Trump said most of those comments just come with the territory of being a first lady. “It’s losing the privacy. You’re always under the microscope . . . before I could go somewhere. Now, wherever you go, it’s a big, big production.”
She also played down a suggestion the repeated rumors of his philandering had put a strain on their marriage.
“It is not concern and focus of mine,” she said. “I’m a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do.”
Trump said that despite all the difficulties of being FLOTUS, she wouldn’t ever give it up.
“I don’t feel like a prisoner. I am enjoying it. It won’t last forever . . . it is a very special time,” she said.
One of her other obligations includes devoting time to her Be Best campaign, an effort dedicated to the emotional, physical and social well-being of kids, with pillars including managing children’s health, social media use and the consequences of the opioid addiction epidemic.
While sitting down with Llamas, Trump shared how personal the subject is to her, suggesting she is “the most bullied person in the world.”
“One of them,” she clarified. “If you could see what people really say about me.”
Trump and Llamas’ also spoke about #MeToo, and that clip was teased by ABC earlier in the week.
“I support the women and they need to be heard,” she said. “We need to support them, and also men, not just women.”
When asked if men who stand accused of assault or misconduct in the news have been treated unfairly, she said: “You need to have really hard evidence, that if you accuse (someone) of something, show the evidence.”
Clarifying her stance, she added: “I do stand with women, but we need to show the evidence. You cannot just say to somebody, ‘I was sexually assaulted,’ or ‘You did that to me,’ ’cause sometimes the media goes too far, and the way they portray some stories, it’s not correct. It’s not right.”
The TV chat came after one of the big surprises of her Africa tour, when she met with pool reporters for a brief gaggle to answer a few questions as Egypt’s Sphinx and Great Pyramids loomed behind her as a backdrop. She said she sometimes disagrees with her husband’s tweets and that she has told him in the past to put down his phone.
She said she has her own voice and opinions and it is important to her that she “express what I feel” to her husband when she gives him advice. And she expressed irritation about her media coverage, saying she wished people would “focus on what I do, not what I wear.”
In the 16 months she’s been in Washington, Trump has issued only occasional statements via her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, and usually only after a reporter asks. She and Grisham have posted anodyne but infrequent tweets (unlike her prolific tweeter husband). She has delivered only a handful of non-controversial speeches.
Instead, in her domestic and international appearances she has seemed most happy and at ease when visiting schools and hospitals and cuddling cute little kids – as she was often pictured doing on her week-long tour of Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.
Cute critters are a safe photo op, too: Dressed in chic safari duds, complete with a white pith helmet to add to her collection of dramatic chapeau, she visited a national park and wildlife reserve in Kenya on Friday where she got to watch gamboling zebras and feed a baby elephant. The perfect photo for a GOP first lady.
Trump returned early Sunday to the White House, where her husband for one was pleased. He told reporters Monday she had done “a tremendous job representing our country in Africa — like no one has before.”
Unlike her husband, the Slovenia-born first lady, 48, is reserved and low-key. Unlike him, she doesn’t refer to the mainstream media as “the enemy of the people.” But unlike him, she doesn’t much relish engaging with reporters.
So this interview is at least as significant a move for her as going to Africa without the president, who was once heard referring to African countries by a barnyard epithet.
Significant moves by Trump have been few and far between, leading to speculation on social media about whether her rare statements are meant as subtle criticism of the president or his administration policies.
It doesn’t help that she has occasionally stepped on her own story.
After she announced her first FLOTUS initiative, in a splashy media event in the Rose Garden in May, she spent five days in a hospital for a still-mysterious kidney procedure. She disappeared from public view for a total of nearly four weeks, leading to “Where’s Melania?” headlines as critics seized on her absence to further mock the administration.
After the administration’s border policy of separating children from their parents created an outcry in June, she flew to McAllen, Texas, to visit a migrant children’s shelter to bolster the administration’s humanitarian credentials. But that was undermined by her decision to wear a casual jacket with a snarky message scrawled on the back reading, “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” during the trip.
She told Llamas on Friday’s broadcast that she wore the jacket “as kind of a message, yes.” It was not a message directed at children, but “for the left-winged media who are criticizing me.”
“I want to show them (the media) that I don’t care,” Trump said. “I would prefer that they focus on what I do, and on my initiatives, than on what I wear.”
She seemed to express some reticence about the jacket, however.
“I am often asking myself: If I would not wear that jacket, (would) I have so much media coverage? It’s obvious I didn’t wear the jacket for the children. I wore the jacket to go on the plane.”
Rarely are her statements blatantly pointed: When the president’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, claimed to know what the first lady thought of allegations her husband had a fling with a porn star, Grisham issued a statement in June in response to a reporter’s question that amounted to a rebuke of Giuliani:
“I don’t believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani,” Grisham said.
The first lady reiterated that when she sat down with Llamas, stating, “I never talked to Mr. Giuliani.”
When President Trump was reported by the New York Times to be highly displeased when he found his wife’s TV on Air Force One was tuned to CNN, his least favorite TV news channel, during a recent trip, Grisham issued another statement, saying the first lady will watch “any channel she wants.” She also snapped back at the media for paying attention to trivial gossip instead of Trump’s issues such as bullying and babies born addicted.
“Maybe you’d like to talk about the 160,000 kids who skip school every day for fear of being bullied, or that 280,000 students are physically attacked in schools every month,” Grisham said. “Seems kind of silly to worry about what channel she watches on TV (any channel she wants, btw) or if she heard some recording on the news,” Grisham said.