Melania & Me review: a friend spurned, a first lady burned and Donald Trump … unharmed

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has reason to seek revenge but her book does not contain much to concern the first family

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff knew Melania Trump for more than 15 years but as an aide to the first lady she lasted less than 14 months. Like other scarred veterans of the Trump administration, she now airs her grievances on paper.

Yet for all the hype around Wolkoff having secretly taped Melania, her book is sedate, not tempestuous. It informs, but it lacks the bombshell revelations that can make this genre compelling or darkly entertaining. Melania & Me should not be confused with Too Much and Never Enough, by Mary Trump, or Unhinged, by Omarosa.

Subtitled The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady, Wolkoff’s tale is one of friendship lost, as opposed to wholesale dysfunction or searing intra-familial enmity. When controversy swirled around the finances of the Trump inauguration, Wolkoff was banished from the kingdom. But she wound up back with her own loving family, a happy ending of sorts.

She did not appear to have engaged in any illegality. Against this backdrop, her anger is understandable. Neither hero nor rogue, she is a seasoned event planner.

Wolkoff produced the Met Gala, was fashion director for Fashion Week, and worked for Anna Wintour at Vogue. She is accustomed to heavy lifting, frenetic pace and people with very deep pockets. Her husband, David Wolkoff, comes from a real estate family.

When she went to work in the White House in 2017, he refused to disclose their personal finances. Wolkoff explains that stance by pointing to Donald Trump’s famous recalcitrance on the very same matter. Going back to 2015, the couple was sued by their son’s tutor for allegedly stiffing her nearly $33,000. They apparently settled months later.

Growing up, Wolkoff was not cosseted. She grew up in upstate New York and, at 6ft 1in, played Division I college basketball. But until 2016, she writes, she had never voted in a presidential election.

She offers this explanation for such political passivity: “I knew nothing about policy. If you asked me the difference between Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s stances on immigration or to explain their economic plans, I would not know where to begin.”

Apparently, glamour was an end in and of itself. Wolkoff and DC were not meant for each other.

Melania & Me amply conveys the tension between Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter with his first wife, and Melania, his third wife. It also provides a glimpse of Melania’s world in the aftermath of the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy”.

Between Melania and Ivanka, there is no love lost. Indeed, Wolkoff intimates that Ivanka helped sabotage Melania’s 2016 Republican convention speech, parts of which had been lifted from Michelle Obama.

In Wolkoff’s telling, Rick Gates, a campaign deputy and deputy inaugural director, was behind the scandal, as Ivanka’s plant: “If Ivanka controlled Rick, and Rick had allegedly written Melania’s convention speech, did that mean Ivanka was behind that major faux pas/sabotage?”

In February 2018, a federal judge sentenced Gates to 45 days in jail and 36 months of probation, after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection and engaging in a conspiracy.

Wolkoff describes Ivanka as “relentless” in her efforts to “usurp” office space from Melania, and in poaching prospective staff. She quotes the first lady referring to the president’s daughter and her minions as “snakes”, and draws a parallel between Ivanka and Hillary Clinton, namely that Ivanka also used a private email address for official business, except she was not vilified for doing so.

In Wolkoff’s own words, “Can you say private server?” She recalls the chant of “lock her up” at Trump’s rallies and the convention, and how it was never intended for Ivanka. The Trumps are different from the rest of us.

Wolkoff is gone but does not want to be forgotten. Who does?

Once, she was closer. On 11 October 2016, four days after the Access Hollywood tape dropped, Melania and Wolkoff grabbed lunch in Manhattan. Melania denied being angry, said Donald “is who he is”, and recalled telling him that if he ran for president, “he had to be ready for everything to be opened up and exposed”.

When it came to Barron, Melania’s son, however, the future first lady grew tense and protective, advising Wolkoff the boy was strong and would be fine.

Wolkoff takes a dimmer view of the other Trump boys and their penchant for big game hunting. She claims Melania interceded with the president to delay implementation of a proposal to lift a ban on importing elephant trophies from Africa. The move had been urged by Don Jr and Eric. Melania sprang into action, Wolkoff writes, after being shown a New York Post headline that trumpeted the shift.

At the end of her book, Wolkoff regrets thinking Melania was different from her husband and sorrowfully concludes she is not. The author recalls watching the 2020 State of the Union, and seeing Rush Limbaugh sitting in the first lady’s box. She is disgusted.

Finally outside Melania’s orbit, Wolkoff conveys a sense of personal liberation and passes moral judgment. Is it too little too late, or a case of sour grapes? Wolkoff laments that the woman she “once considered” her “close friend” is “gone”. Practically speaking, it might simply be time to move on.


Lloyd Green

The GuardianTramp

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