During her five years working in various roles as a senior aide to Donald and Melania Trump, Stephanie Grisham had perhaps the most intimate vantage point of their time in the White House.
Grisham outlines those takeaways in detail in her upcoming memoir, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now.” The book, of which CNN obtained an early copy and is set to be released on Tuesday, also reveals her insight about the former first lady, widely acknowledged to be the most private and least-known of any in modern American political history.
Grisham worked as both communications director and chief of staff for Melania Trump, and her telling of those experiences – from deciphering the Trump marriage, to Melania Trump’s relationship with her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump; her somewhat lackadaisical work ethic; and penchant for photo albums – reveals fresh insight into the mind of Melania Trump.
In a statement provided to CNN earlier this week, Donald Trump said, “Too bad that sleaze bag publishers continue to report this very boring garbage. We and the MAGA movement are totally used to it. And someday in the not too distant future we will have our voice back and be treated fairly by the press.”
His spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, added, “This book is another pitiful attempt to cash in on the President’s strength and sell lies about the Trump family.”
In a statement to CNN on Monday, a spokesperson for Melania Trump said, “The author is desperately trying to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation by manipulating and distorting the truth about Mrs. Trump. Ms. Grisham is a deceitful and troubled individual who doesn’t deserve anyone’s trust.”
Melania Trump, like Donald Trump, obsessively read her own press
Melania Trump often appeared in public as first lady without much indication as to what she was thinking, or revealing, outside of her stoic and – at times – unsmiling visage. There was the impression she really did not care, nor could be bothered, with what the American public – and particularly the media – thought about her.
According to Grisham, however, that was not the case.
Melania Trump was a fan of reading every little thing written about her, with consistency and frequency. “Like her husband and all of his kids, Mrs. Trump scrutinized her press clippings like an expert architect focusing on blueprints,” writes Grisham. “No detail was overlooked, nothing missed her eye. She had Google alerts set up for herself and saw everything.”
As her spokeswoman, Grisham was on the receiving end of multiple texts per day from the first lady, many regarding how to respond – or not respond, more accurately – to a global news media obsessed with understanding the mysterious and elusive first lady.
Melania Trump, aka ‘Rapunzel,’ was out of office
Grisham also writes with experience about the lack of office time with her boss. Not in terms of being one-on-one with Melania Trump in the East Wing, but in terms of Melania Trump actually being in the East Wing offices at all.
Grisham says she recalls seeing her boss in the spacious office suite designated to the first lady only “a handful of times” during the four years she worked in the White House.
“Mrs. Trump was working from home long before the country was,” says Grisham, jokingly making reference to the Covid-era remote work habits of most Americans. “When warranted, we would have in-person meetings, but those generally took place in the Map Room across from the elevators to the residence. There we would plan out schedules, respond to pressing queries, and discuss goals. Other than that, the first lady kept to her rooms in the residence.”
Grisham says that so frequently was Melania Trump sequestered in the executive residence, the Secret Service gave her the nickname “Rapunzel,” “because she remained in her tower, never descending.”
Melania Trump spent a lot of time, writes Grisham, on “self-care,” which included many hours of sleep. (Grisham says the East Wing staff rarely heard from their boss before 10 a.m. most days.)
“She believed that relaxation was central to one’s beauty regimen, as were, of course, spa treatments and facials,” writes Grisham.
Grisham also says Trump’s main “work” the public did not see during her White House years was the hours and hours she spent devoted to copious and detailed photo albums. Grisham says hundreds if not thousands of photographs of her time in the White House were pored over and categorized and painstakingly placed into albums – the keeping of which is a longtime hobby of the former first lady.
Melania Trump called Ivanka Trump ‘the Princess’
According to Grisham’s book, there is no love lost between Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, the two most important women in Donald Trump’s life.
While the rift was kept mostly out of the public eye, Grisham writes that behind the scenes there was tension between the two, often due to Ivanka Trump’s desire to be in the spotlight at public events and on foreign trips. Grisham writes that once she became aware of the delicate relationship, Melania Trump let her in on the nickname she liked to call her behind her back: the Princess. (Grisham in turn told the former first lady the nickname many White House staffers had given Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner: “the interns.”)
Melania Trump’s ire toward her stepdaughter would often flare during foreign trips, Grisham writes, mostly because the former first lady was a student of protocol and a stickler for abiding by traditions in each country that were reserved only for a president and a first spouse – not a president’s daughter and her husband.
In particular, when Ivanka Trump wanted to muscle in on the Trump’s visit to the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace, according to Grisham, Melania Trump put her foot down and insisted that Ivanka and Jared not be in the spotlight. Instead, the two were photographed watching from the windows inside Buckingham Palace as Melania Trump, laughed and held court with the Queen and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Melania Trump was mad about the alleged affairs that ruptured the news cycle
Though CNN reported it at the time, the White House never confirmed on the record that Melania Trump took a separate motorcade from her husband to the 2018 State of the Union address, and to Joint Base Andrews to depart for a trip, because she was angry about Donald Trump’s alleged behavior surrounding accusations of infidelity from porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen MacDougal.
In her book, Grisham writes that Melania Trump was indeed upset, and that her anger led her to distance herself in a public way from her husband. Melania Trump was not keen on being seen as a political spouse who was trying to save her husband from damaging headlines – according to Grisham, it was quite the opposite.
“I felt that Mrs. Trump was embarrassed, and that she wanted him to feel embarrassed, too. Whether he is capable of that or not, I don’t know,” writes Grisham of the Daniels episode, which she says led to an emboldened and more assertive Melania Trump.
“I received a call from her to let me know that she wanted to drive to Air Force One ahead of her husband. She surprised me, saying ‘I do not want to be like Hillary Clinton, do you understand what I mean? She walked to Marine One holding the hands with her husband after Monica news and it did not look good,’ referring to Monica Lewinsky. I didn’t argue,” writes Grisham, who helped arrange the logistics to facilitate Trump’s request.
Additionally, Grisham and another staffer spent time “shopping” in the White House military office “for a good-looking aide” to accompany the first lady to the State of the Union, at Melania Trump’s request. “Mrs. Trump called to let me know that she wanted one of our military aides to escort her throughout the Capitol because ‘the floors were so slippery,’” writes Grisham, who felt the request was a ruse for Trump to be seen with a handsome, uniformed younger man – a visual likely to rankle her husband. “I laughed to myself because I’d seen the woman navigate dirt roads in her heels.”
Melania Trump and the jacket
Grisham spends quite a bit of time – an entire chapter in her book – deciphering the incident with “the jacket,” the infamous green garment emblazoned on the back with the words, “I really don’t care. Do u?” that Melania Trump wore to visit an immigrant intake center in Texas.
In short, Grisham doesn’t really explain why the former first lady chose to wear the jacket on the trip to – and from – Texas, writing she was as in the dark as everyone else about Melania Trump’s decision. However, Grisham does say she didn’t think Melania Trump grasped, or cared, about the immense criticism she received because she wore a jacket with such a grossly insensitive message while shining a light on a cause so deeply concerning to the country at the time.
Grisham says that once the images of the jacket hit the press, while the first lady was flying back to Washington from Texas, she and Melania Trump huddled in her private cabin on the plane, trying to find a way to divert the media attention. Grisham writes at one point in the conversation, Melania Trump suggests putting a circle with a line through it over the “don’t” part of the message on the jacket – ostensibly turning it into “I really do care” – and then claiming the press had read it wrong.
Grisham dissuaded her from that idea.
When the first lady and Grisham returned to the White House, the bad press followed, and the then-President was apparently not happy about it. “
The boss was in a sour mood, which of course I could appreciate,” writes Grisham of being called into the President’s private dining room in the West Wing, where he was waiting for them. “He looked at his wife and then at us with annoyance. The first words out of the President’s mouth were ‘What the hell were you thinking?’”
Grisham writes, “To my surprise, Mrs. Trump sat down in the chair next to him on the right (still wearing that damn jacket, by the way) and smiled.”