Return to Transcripts main page


CNN Special Report: Woman of Mystery, Melania Trump. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 16, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:13] ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Melania Trump.

KATE BENNETT, CNN HOST: She's the most unusual first lady in modern history.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Melania Trump is never beholden to the Washington ways of broadcasting everything you're thinking and doing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are persistent rumors that Mrs. Trump does not live in this White House.


BENNETT: She's forging her own path.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The president warned her that people are going to attack you about this.

BENNETT: Flying under the radar.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Still no sighting of the elusive first lady.

BENNETT: Setting her own trends.

M. TRUMP: Everybody has a different taste.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think she can shake it, do you?

BENNETT: Not to mention coping with the intense scrutiny of her marriage.

FRANK BRUNI, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I get the feeling that she cares less about what people think than any of her predecessors. BENNETT: Tonight, questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think the public will come to understand her more?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's become a very, very popular first lady. I'm reading that.

BENNETT: Curiosity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I constantly hear how much fun she is.

BENNETT: And controversy.

CARL SFERRAZZA ANTHONY, AUTHOR, "FIRST LADIES": I have never known a first lady who has accumulated so many small acts of resistance.

BENNETT: With a rare visit to the East Wing.

GRISHAM: This is where I would say all the magic happens.

BENNETT: An inside look at the first lady, WOMAN OF MYSTERY, MELANIA TRUMP.

It's 6:00 a.m., Monday, March 4th. I'm in a press van following Melania Trump's motorcade on the tarmac. It's about a 17-minute drive from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base. The first lady's staff has allowed me to bring a camera along for the CNN documentary. That doesn't happen often. Neither do these trips.

Melania is hitting the road to promote her "Be Best" campaign. Two years into her time as first lady, it's her first solo domestic overnight trip.

(On camera): Is that a normal first lady schedule?

BROWER: I think she does a lot less than other first ladies have done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first lady of the United States, Mrs. Melania Trump.

BROWER: She announced cyber bullying campaign really late.

M. TRUMP: We can and should teach children the importance of social and self-awareness.

BROWER: I think that every first lady has felt compelled to have an agenda and to really work.

The first first lady to ever have an initiative was Lady Bird Johnson when she had this Highway Beautification Act. You had Nancy Reagan with "Just Say No to Drugs." The Bush women both had literacy.


BROWER: And then Michelle Obama with her "Let's Move" campaign.

There was always a sense, this obligation, to treat this like a job. And I think we see Melania Trump treat it more like a hobby. It took Melania a long time to come up with the cyber bullying campaign. And I am sure it's because her staff said you're going to get criticized if you do this.

BENNETT (voice-over): Criticized by some who question how the wife of a notorious Twitter bully could lead a campaign that includes cyber bullying.

BROWER: I think she's also really smart. I mean, she sees the inherent hypocrisy. And she said, look, I'm doing it anyway.

BENNETT: A character trait that we hear over and over to describe this first lady.

GRISHAM: She's very, very independent and she does things her way.

Coming up here, you've got Mrs. Trump's office and my office.

BENNETT: Melania Trump's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham.

GRISHAM: The president warned her that people are going to attack you on this. And it was very important to her and she stuck with it. That is to this day one of the things I respect and admire about her the most.

M. TRUMP: Good morning.

[20:05:03] GRISHAM: She'll always do what she thinks is right, no matter what anyone else tells her.

And I don't know that that's been done before.

BENNETT: Melania's first stop on her cross-country trip is a school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

M. TRUMP: We always need to be kind and show love. Correct? Yes. We don't like hate. We don't like that word either. Correct? We need to be nice.

BENNETT: The first lady has been trying to put substance behind her "Be Best" agenda. A broad initiative to improve the well-being of children, promote online safety and combat the opioid abuse crisis in this country.

M. TRUMP: I do believe we can be known as the generation that ended the opioid epidemic.

ANTHONY: I think by taking on a lot, sometimes first ladies can be remembered for very little. A first lady and her advisers must very carefully create a strategy. You realize, Michelle Obama was head of a hospital and had a large staff and Lady Bird Johnson was CEO of a multimedia conglomerate in Texas. They knew what they were doing and they knew what they wanted to do. I don't think Melania Trump has been afforded the necessary resources.

CONWAY: She's always consulting with her professionals.

BENNETT: The White House says, Melania's got this.

CONWAY: More than almost any other modern first lady, Melania Trump was thrust into the role on a very short time line. And she's done remarkably well. And whether she gets the credit now is not as important as the impact that she is having on American lives.

BENNETT: In the modern era, first lady's social agendas have stemmed from matters close to their hearts.

ANTHONY: In 1974, Betty Ford discovered that she had breast cancer. She decided, this is bigger than me.

BETTY FORD, FORMER FIRST LADY: One day I appeared to be fine and the next day, the very next day, I was in the hospital for a mastectomy.

ANTHONY: Untold millions of women's lives were saved. It was real freaking life.

BENNETT: Have there been missed moments for Melania Trump? Last May, she entered the hospital for a kidney procedure that kept her out of the public eye for weeks.

ANTHONY: If Melania Trump had spoken about what the kidney ailment was, plain and simple and unemotional and unembarrassed, if Melania Trump were to ever address what it feels like sometimes to have the barrier and judgment of an accent, if she talked about a few of these very human qualities that make her vulnerable, that would be enormous.

GRISHAM: I think that while she is the first lady of the United States and people do deserve to know a lot about her and how wonderful she is, I think her privacy is important. I have learned from her that we don't have to tell everybody everything. We just don't. And it works out fine.

M. TRUMP: The president. He is in the Oval Office.

BROWER: I think there's a warmth to her that people don't see. And you see it when she's with kids. You kind of see her light up. But otherwise there is just this kind of wall between her and us.

BENNETT: Up next --


BROWER: It was jaw dropping.

BENNETT: Melania gets tough.


[20:12:58] BENNETT: As you leave the West Wing, and walk down this driveway, under the portico of the White House, you'll reach the East Wing.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It was built in the '40s during World War II over an underground bunker that was for the president in the event of an attack or an emergency.

BENNETT: The East Wing has served as offices for the first lady and her staff since 1977. Rosalynn Carter was the first first lady to use the space. Upstairs is the first lady's war room, so to speak.

(On camera): So you're literally her first line of defense.

GRISHAM: Literally right next door to her always. Whether she likes it or not.

BENNETT (voice-over): Meet Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's spokeswoman.

GRISHAM: This is where I come every day. Much bigger than my West Wing office.

ANTHONY: I think perhaps the most important decision that Melania Trump has made is by having hired somebody she trusts and somebody whose sense of judgment is in line with hers.

GRISHAM: The day that it was announced that I had taken the job with the first lady, I came into work and this newspaper was just sitting on my seat. It said, Stephanie, as you can see, you will do a great job. And the president signed it.

BENNETT: In the ever evolving Trump White House, Grisham is one of the few staffers who has stuck around.

GRISHAM: I was the press wrangler. And from there I became deputy press secretary in the West Wing with Sean Spicer. And then Mrs. Trump stole me. It's kind of a joke with the president and the first lady and I that she stole me away.

This is the chief of staff's office. And then advance in operations. And back here is calligraphy. They're very busy, especially during state dinners.

[20:15:05] BENNETT: Grisham is in constant touch with the first lady.

GRISHAM: Working in the East Wing, being so small, we are tight knit. We have to be. We are very close.

BENNETT: Melania's East Wing has 12 staff members, far fewer than her predecessors.

JEREMY BERNARD, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL SECRETARY: On a given day, we would have three or four events. It was a juggle.

BENNETT: Jeremy Bernard was the social secretary in the Obama White House.

BERNARD: Mrs. Obama had initiatives that she launched throughout the administration. So we were really busy all the time.

BROWER: Michelle Obama had 25 or 30. Laura Bush had upwards of 20. So to have less than half the number of people working for you, I think puts you at a tremendous disadvantage. And it also sends a message about how much you're willing to do and how much you want to do.

GRISHAM: That was done by design by Mrs. Trump. First of all it's fiscally more responsible when you have a staff of our size. Also, she is so big on quality over quantity.

BENNETT: Melania has isolated herself from the chaos of her husband's White House by directing the East Wing to operate independently from the West Wing.

BROWER: I think Melania Trump is kind of a radical first lady in a lot of ways. She's someone who came to the position not necessarily wanting to be first lady, but re-imagining it in a really unique way. She's fiercely private and guarded I think in a way that we haven't seen since Jackie Kennedy. Even more so than Jackie Kennedy.

JACKIE KENNEDY, FORMER FIRST LADY: I rather love this. It has all the colors when one thinks of when one thinks of the White House.

BROWER: Who famously opened up the White House for a tour.

GRISHAM: We know that she does value her privacy and so that's very important to us. We are all very, very loyal to her. That's not to say people aren't loyal in West Wing, but when it's a smaller staff, I do think it's easier to keep things contained.

BENNETT: So contained Melania can't shake the public perception that she's not doing much.

(On camera): There's sort of this what does she do all day, right? So what is her day like?

GRISHAM: We have full staff meetings every week. It's very, very busy. And I think one thing I would also remind you, she's got a resident staff of over 100. So she's dealing with her East Wing staff, she's dealing with the Usher's Office and White House Historical Association. So it's a full day for her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And people don't realize that the first lady gets involved in these events, sometimes months in advance.

M. TRUMP: Lucy Goosy was thrilled. She was (INAUDIBLE).

GRISHAM: Easter we started planning four, five months ago. She chose the colors for the Easter Eggs for this year's Easter egg roll about 2 1/2, 3 months ago.

BENNETT (voice-over): Staffers say Melania is a perfectionist.

GRISHAM: She will have a vision and then she selects everything. I mean, linens, candlesticks, candles, flowers, very detail oriented. It's one of my favorite things about her.

CONWAY: She's very fastidious, very detail conscious. I describe her as a woman of action and (INAUDIBLE) talk where people are constantly looking for the spotlight. She feels no such compulsion to always make it about her.

BENNETT (on camera): You've seen her in events. People tend to think that maybe she's stoic.

CONWAY: I have never seen the first lady be aloof, detached, disengaged. She's authentic and warm.

GRISHAM: You meet her and she's the one saying, can I get you a coke, do you want a coffee, are you comfortable, is it warm enough? She's very, very kind and gracious.

BENNETT (voice-over): And according to her inner circle, Melania Trump is actually fun to hang out with.

M. TRUMP: I would spend my holidays on deserted island, tropical island with my family.

GRISHAM: Something people don't really know about her is she's got an amazing sense of humor. She's very, very funny. And also, self- deprecating sometimes, which is surprising to me still. Just because she's who she is.

BENNETT: Coming up, Melania MIA.


[20:23:16] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are persistent rumors that Mrs. Trump does not live in this White House.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That is an outrageous and ridiculous claim.

BENNETT: More than a year after she moved into the White House, gossip about the reclusive first lady still churned.

(On camera): What is that like for you to have to deal with?

GRISHAM: Some of the rumors are so funny, we have to laugh. That rumor that there's a fake house somewhere in the area continues to pop up. And we laugh at that. It's silly.

BENNETT (voice-over): That rumor caught fire after Melania made a radical decision.

CONWAY: When First Lady Melania Trump decided she would allow her son to finish his school year in New York before moving down here, it was classic, vintage Melania Trump where she is confident. She doesn't need a poll worrying about what people in Washington think, worrying about what the media will say. She did what was right by her son.

BENNETT: For Melania, motherhood comes first. GRISHAM: She gets up in the morning and she makes sure that he's

eaten and there's arguments about homework being done and getting in the -- packing him in the car and getting off to school.

BENNETT (on camera): That's funny when you go to the White House and you see the soccer goal put up in the garden.

BRUNI: Right. And you think, yes, there's a kid. Because she has done such a good job of helping us forget that there's a kid. She has gone to great and almost poignant lengths to protect him from public scrutiny. I think that tells you an enormous amount about her.

BENNETT (voice-over): Melania didn't move into the White House for almost six months. Something her predecessor, AKA, mom-in-chief, contemplated herself.

BROWER: For someone like Michelle Obama, it must have been kind of galling to see her do it.

[20:25:05] Because it's like, I didn't know that was an option. It was very important to her. She clearly loved life in Trump Tower. She wanted to put it off until the last possible moment, which she did. And in some ways, it's kind of a feminist decision.

BENNETT: When she finally moved into the White House, Melania kept a low profile.

M. TRUMP: We are so incredibly privileged.

BENNETT: Then last May, she had a health scare.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: The First Lady Melania Trump recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center.

BENNETT: Melania was admitted to the hospital for a benign kidney condition. Rumors flared again when post-procedure she didn't surface for nearly a month. Late-night TV poked fun at MIA Melania.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Because as of the time we're taping the show right now, the first lady has not been seen in public for 25 days. Well, I'm not surprised. It took that Shawshank guy years to tunnel out.

BROWER: I think people want to imagine her as someone who is trapped in the White House. This kind of damsel in distress image, which is not at all in alignment with who she really is. In same way that Donald Trump breaks all these norms, Melania Trump breaks every rule because she can.

BENNETT: Melania has always been a reserved, private person. She was born Melanija Knavs in 1970 and raised in Sevnica, a quiet industrial town in Slovenia, which was then part of Yugoslavia.

BROWER: She's the second to be born outside the U.S. The first one is Luisa Adams who was born in London. Her father was a member of the Communist Party. Her mom was a dressmaker and worked in the factory. ANTHONY: When people get to know the real story behind her early

years, they will recognize that she is innately drawn to creativity. She's somebody who likes to draw, who likes to sketch, who likes to design.

BENNETT: She studied architecture and design for a year at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia before realizing modeling was her passion. Photographer (INAUDIBLE) told CNN he approached the striking Melania on the street and talked her into a photo shoot. She was a natural.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She learned very quick.

BENNETT: She got work modeling but quickly outgrew her hometown. After a year, Melania dropped out of college, left Slovenia and moved to Italy to model in Milan. Then in 1996, at the age of 26, dead set on becoming a famous model, Melania moved to New York. Never a party girl, it was a rare night out during Fashion Week at New York City's Kit Kat Club that put her in the path of an older real estate tycoon.

M. TRUMP: I've been in Slovenia two years ago. I don't --


D. TRUMP: Yes. I was there about 13 minutes.

BENNETT: Years later, the Trumps spoke to CNN's Larry King about the first time they met.

M. TRUMP: He came to me --

KING: Like her right away?

D. TRUMP: I went crazy. I said -- I was actually supposed to meet somebody else. I said, forget about her. Who is the one on the left? And it was Melania.

KING: You like him right away?

M. TRUMP: It was a great chemistry and energy. We had, you know, great time. We start to talk. And, you know, it was something was there right away.

BROWER: This is kind of what she signed up for. Right? I mean, she is more than 20 years younger than him. He is a playboy. He was famously dating lots of models.

BENNETT: In 2000, while dating, Melania landed a modeling coup.

BROWER: I mean, I think she's the first first lady to ever have these photos. Betty Ford was a model but nothing like this, I can assure you.

BENNETT: She posed nearly nude in a glossy British GQ magazine spread. Trump supplied his jet for the photo shoot. BROWER: Her posing on the Trump plane decked out in, you know,

diamonds and gold, and she really came to be like this kind of perfect Stepford wife/super model for him.

BENNETT: Next, the most bizarre union. And the biggest first lady fashion faux pas in history.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: First lady Melania Trump has been getting a lot of backlash.




D. TRUMP: I'd like to introduce my wife, Melania. Come.

BENNETT: Early April 2016, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

M. TRUMP: It is wonderful to be here today with you and with my husband. I'm very proud of him.

BENNETT: Melania Trump made a rare appearance on the Presidential campaign trail.


BENNETT: In terms of him running for President, was she pro or was she against it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It had been going on for so many years. She was basically saying, "Do it or don't. I'm tired of this waffling." And that was one of the big things that pushed him to actually get into the race.


D. TRUMP: We are going to make our country great again.


BROWER: She was reclusive even then though. She didn't sign up to be married to the President of the United States. She signed up to be married to a very wealthy, celebrity New York real estate developer. So, this isn't the life that she necessarily wanted.


BENNETT: According to the White House, Melania was on board all along.


CONWAY: That is probably one of the under-covered stories of the 2016 campaign, is how steady and supportive Mrs. Trump was.


M. TRUMP: He's compassionate, giving and loving. Donald cares.



CONWAY: She is an incredibly important honest adviser who expects nothing from the President, except his success.


BENNETT: Yet, images and accounts of the Trump marriage in the White House seem to paint a very different picture.


[20:35:00] BROWER: They're the first First Couple since the Kennedys to have separate bedrooms. Laura Bush would say that she was anchored to her husband. Michelle Obama and President Obama, there was a - a magnetism there. Donald Trump is not chivalrous in the way that other Presidents have been. He does not opening the door for her.


BENNETT: And there have been other awkward moments caught on camera.


BROWER: She famously swatted her husband's hand away on the tarmac in Israel, doing these things that most First Ladies would never let cameras see.


BENNETT: So, is the Trump marriage on the rocks? Melania's inner circle says, "No way."


GRISHAM: They are like any other happily married couple. I see a lot of things behind the scenes. They're very affectionate towards one another, and they laugh a lot, and they talk, and they're open with each other.

CONWAY: When he's on the road, they speak frequently. When she's on the road, he's always checking in. I've witnessed it on both ends actually.


BENNETT: Yet pundits say because Melania is a woman of so few words, the visuals speak volumes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBIN GIVHAN, FASHION EDITOR & CRITIC, THE WASHINGTON POST: You're in the public eye, and you're not doing all that much, and you're not saying all that much. And yet, there you are.

The only recourse is to try to suss out something based on how you have turned yourself out for the occasion.

BENNETT: With Mrs. Obama, and even prior with Mrs. Bush, designers would create looks, specifically for that First Lady. Melania Trump seems to buy online.

GIVHAN: What they were essentially saying is "I don't want to collaborate on a special ensemble for this First Lady" because they're not supportive of the administration.

A lot of that led to her decision to just sort of say, "OK, fine, I will wear what I want to wear, and I'll leave the designers out of the equation."


BENNETT: Many searching for clues from the elusive Melania interpret her high-fashion looks as possible feminist statements.


GIVHAN: The Gucci Pussy-bow blouse, people, I think, glommed onto it obviously because of the name of the blouse.

And because of the Access Hollywood tape had recently been thrust into the news.


BENNETT: The white pantsuit at the State of the Union, was that a message?


GIVHAN: There were the notions that "Oh, she's wearing the white because she's signaling that she's really on the side of The Resistance."


BENNETT: Some looks, including subtle fashion nods to the countries she's visited, have backfired.


BENNETT: Which is what happened in Africa when she wore the pith helmet.

GIVHAN: I'm not sure why anyone wears a pith helmet by.

BENNETT: Most bury (ph) out of Africa. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT: East Wing staffers say they have zero control over Melania. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GRISHAM: We all give her the best advice that we can all the time. And then, she's going to do, you know, what she feels is best.


BENNETT: That stance may have led to one of the biggest fashion blunders in First Lady history.

Last summer, when Melania made a humanitarian trip to a children shelter at the Mexico border, what could have been a compassionate visit turned into a PR nightmare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Melania Trump has been getting a lot of backlash.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: It's the jacket that's getting all the attention.





GRISHAM: The fact of the matter is she wore the jacket onto the airplane, and then she changed when she was around those children.

GIVHAN: I find it mind-boggling that message got sprayed at everyone who was in eyeshot.


BENNETT: The White House says it was blown out of proportion.


GRISHAM: I would find it laughable, me giving her clothing advice, it just seems crazy to me.


BENNETT: The damage had been done in the public eye.


ANTHONY: If there's one thing that ended up sabotaging compelling goodwill, it was wearing that stupid damn jacket. Period!


BENNETT: Months later, the First Lady addressed controversies surrounding her clothing.

M. TRUMP: I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.

BENNETT: Coming up.

BRUNI: Melania could do something that no First Lady before her has done.




BENNETT: Cleveland, Ohio, October 1975, when First Lady Betty Ford took the stage to lobby for the Equal Rights Amendment, it was considered a bold move.

FORD: Why should my husband's job, or yours, prevent us from being ourselves?


BENNETT: First ladies have traditionally been advocates and informal advisers for their husbands. Yet, there really is no rulebook.


BRUNI: We've never figured out what we want from a First Lady because what the heck is a First Lady. You're supposed to show passion while having no true convictions. You're supposed to show some independence while being completely deferential. The whole job is an oxymoron.


BENNETT: In the modern era, it's still uncommon for a First Lady to go on record with an opinion contrary to that of her husband.


[20:45:00] ANTHONY: There have been very rare examples when President Kennedy asked his wife to please somehow help maneuver the White wife of Actor Sammy Davis Jr. out of the photograph. She was enraged, and she refused to do it. When Eleanor Roosevelt was outraged over the internment of Japanese Americans, and argued the point with her husband.

BRUNI: We've gotten subtle but deliberate signals that they might not agree with their husband on every policy thing. Melania's statements that contradict or don't back up Donald Trump, they don't have that feel. They don't feel like smart political strategy. They feel like tiny rebellions.

ANTHONY: I've never known a First Lady who has accumulated, in a relatively short period of time, so many small acts of resistance. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENNETT: Could Melania Trump be changing the First Lady playbook? Melania tweets and conducts her own social media without running it by anyone. Some of her posts and actions fly in the face of her husband.


GRISHAM: There have been many situations with the West Wing, her saying what she thinks, how she feels, she is authentic, and she will remain authentic always. It's just who she is.


BENNETT: Like this past August, when Trump ripped into NBA Star LeBron James.


BRUNI: Right after her husband, on Twitter, of course, as a cyberbully, mocked LeBron James' intelligence, her office puts out a statement praising the work that LeBron James has done.

GRISHAM: That's how we do things over here. It's she wants to do it, we - we take care of it.


BENNETT: It's not the first time Melania has disagreed with her husband.


BRUNI: I don't think that's an accident. And that's why I once wrote a column saying she could be our greatest First Lady.


BENNETT: New York Times Op-Ed Writer Frank Bruni has a theory or perhaps some wishful thinking. The First Lady is actually trolling the President.


BRUNI: Melania could do something that no First Lady before her has done, which is actually kind of stop the monster, stop him by waging this sort of subtle psyops campaign.


BENNETT: Bruni cites Melania's Be Best platform as the first clue.


BRUNI: I think cyberbullying is picked on purpose, just happened to land on that one, and it's exactly what her husband does every hour on Twitter. It is impossible to view that as anything but a sort of slap of her husband. But when you add that to wearing the white pantsuit for his first State of the Union address, right, a reminder of Hillary Clinton, a reminder of suffragettes.

When you add that to going to Africa, on her first, truly long, flashy solo trip, a continent that her husband has repeatedly, in direct and indirect ways, mocked and belittled.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the message you want to send to the world on behalf of your husband's administration with this trip?

M. TRUMP: That we care and--


BRUNI: I don't think she's sitting around coming up with some fancy and sustained script. But I do think in some very weird and unbelievably compelling way, she's letting her husband know, "I see you clearly, and I will slap you down, and tweak you in public."


BENNETT: But Melania's camp says that notion is pure fiction.


CONWAY: Anybody who would even question that is just being a, you know, a critic and a cynic for no reason, with no basis, in fact. She will express her opinion. She will give her advice.

Sometimes he will take it, sometimes he may not.

GRISHAM: It's not a spite towards her husband. It's not us being rude. There's no, again, there's no war there. It's just her saying what she thinks is right, and doing what she thinks is right.


BENNETT: Then, in November, the private First Lady made a staggering public move.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR & CO-HOST, NEW DAY: Stunning and unprecedented public rebuke.

BENNETT: Melania called for the axing of a top National Security Council official who had clashed with her East Wing staff, stating "It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House."

West Wing officials, including the President, were blindsided.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWER: I mean it was jaw-dropping. Those kinds of things you would never see another First Lady do. Nancy Reagan got President Reagan's Chief of Staff, Don Regan, fired, but it was never a public statement.


BENNETT: The power-play signaled that this First Lady may be more like her husband than anyone realized.


[20:50:00] GRISHAM: I don't think it's unconventional for her. This is who she is.


BENNETT: Coming up, FLOTUS writes her own script on scandal.




BENNETT: Last January, when the Stormy Daniels scandal lit up again--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stormy, we love you.

JIM MORET, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, INSIDE EDITION: Have you been paid to keep quiet? Have you signed a nondisclosure agreement?

BENNETT: And the porn star, paid off by Trump's fixer to cover up an alleged affair, began her press tour.

The First Lady made a quiet landing in Mar-a-Lago. When POTUS is in hot water, pundits have noticed a trend.


[20:55:00] BROWER: At the most difficult times during the Stormy Daniels scandal, she really did leave him out to dry. There were times when she wouldn't share the walk to Marine One. She famously wouldn't go to Davos. And this was around their wedding anniversary too.

She didn't take the motorcade with him to the State of the Union, which was a first for a First Lady. When he really needed her to stand up, and publicly defend him, she was not doing that.

BRUNI: She seems to be sending either a public signal or a signal to him that "I don't put up with everything gladly and that there are moments when I need to sort of punish you, or show the nation that I'm punishing you."


BENNETT: Historically, the wives of powerful men have supported their husbands to counteract allegations of infidelity.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sitting here because I love him and I respect him.

BENNETT: In 1992, Hillary Clinton sat in solidarity with her husband on 60 Minutes to address his alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers.


BENNETT: Last year, Ashley Kavanaugh appeared on Fox News defending her husband, now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, against sexual assault allegations.

But Melania Trump has never followed that script.

M. TRUMP: The President of the United States, Donald Trump.


BRUNI: There is clearly this independent streak in her, which I think surprises people just because in so many other ways she seems like an old-fashioned wife.

ELLISON: I think because Melania doesn't have an ambition for higher office, she has nothing to lose. She's sort of free to express those irritations.


BENNETT: Then, after months of salacious headlines about Trump's alleged affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, Melania finally spoke up. During her solo trip to Africa, she sat down with ABC News to address rumors of her husband's cheating.

M. TRUMP: It is not concern and focus of mine. I'm a mother and a First Lady. And I have much more important things to think about and to do.

BENNETT: If there was ever a chance to humanize the President and defend his character, this was it. But Melania punted.


BRUNI: What's really interesting here, it's the part of this we don't talk about as much. Nobody else gets to undermine and countermine Donald Trump with impunity.

BROWER: She holds a lot of cards in this relationship. If she were to walk away, it would be a first First Lady to leave her husband in Office, and I think it would be incredibly damaging for him.


BENNETT: But how does his behavior affect the First Lady's reputation?

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANTHONY: Even if Melania Trump were to become wildly successful--

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) M. TRUMP: October is National Bullying Prevention Month.


ANTHONY: --no matter what a First Lady does manage to achieve, it can never overcome negative impact of the President.


D. TRUMP: You're fired. Get out.

BENNETT: No question, President Trump will need Melania by his side for his 2020 reelection campaign.


BROWER: I think we do see Melania Trump and Donald Trump growing closer publicly. They've kind of ridden this rollercoaster together.

BRUNI: She has always come around in the end. We will see her in 2020. But I think we'll see her less.

BROWER: She's not going to walk away. But she is going to let it be known that she's not happy.

BENNETT: Do you think the public will see her more or come to understand her more?

CONWAY: I will leave it to the First Lady to unveil additional parts of her portfolio.


M. TRUMP: Parents, they need to watch it what children are doing, so to be safe.


CONWAY: But I will tell you that she will continue to support the work of this administration.

GRISHAM: I think that history will look back on her very kindly. I hope that First Ladies to come will take a page out of her book, because I think it's just very powerful and strong.

ANTHONY: She's in a role that's dynamic. It's ever-changing. While we can sometimes be an impatient nation, we're just going to have to give Melania Trump time.

BRUNI: Within the role of First Lady, she has served notice that she will do it as she wants to do it. I think people understand they're sort of chasing shadows. We just don't know Melania Trump. [21:00:00]