Six things we’ve learned from Melania Trump’s unauthorised biography

Free, Melania gets into Ivanka, Be Best and that ‘I really don’t care, do U?’ Zara jacket

‘Melania is the only one in Trump’s orbit who can flick his hand and get away with it,’ Kate Bennett writes. Photograph: Tom Brenner/NYT

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

As a member of the 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 unauthorised biography, Free, Melania, which came out in the United States yesterday.

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

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, where Melania’s office is based, as “the White House’s tightest ship”). Here are six of Bennett’s revelations.

Was Melania Trump’s pussy-bow blouse intended as a response to the release of the Access Hollywood tape? Photograph: Doug Mills/NYT

There are no coincidences when it comes to the first lady's clothing. This includes outerwear
"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 Melania Trump wore to an October 2016 debate after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which her husband bragged about grabbing women's genitals. Then there was the white pantsuit at the 2018 state-of-the-union address (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 €35 army-green Zara parka Melania Trump wore on a June 2018 trip to the US border with Mexico – 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.

About that relationship with Ivanka...
"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, the media labelled Melania Trump 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.”

Kate Bennett writes that President Trump warned his wife she would spark a backlash for taking up the cause of cyberbullying. She did it anyway. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty

Be Best isn't really a thing
Melania Trump unveiled her child-focused kindness campaign, Be Best, more than 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."

Melania Trump's hospital stay was no joke
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.”

When Karen Pence and Melania Trump travel together, the first lady has been known to seat the second lady with ‘staff hoi polloi’, Kate Bennett reports. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

Melania Trump and Karen Pence are not close
At one point Bennett was sitting in the back section of a C-32 military jet that Melania 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".

Melania Trump did not bring Karen Pence into her spacious cabin, nor did she remove her 4in heels when the two landed in Texas; as a result, the first lady towered “almost comically” over the second lady. (Melania Trump usually wears a low heel or flat when walking or being photographed with someone of modest stature.)

The first lady has a room of her own at the White House
While the president sleeps in the master bedroom, on the second level of the White House residence – he requested a lock for his door – Melania Trump stays on the third floor, in the two-room space formerly occupied by Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, Bennett reports.

Melania Trump also has a “glam room”, where she does her hair and make-up, and a private gym with a Pilates machine.

Free, Melania: The Unauthorized Biography, by Kate Bennett, is published by Macmillan