While people said it was hypocritical for Donald Trump’s wife to promote the “Be the Best” anti-cyberbullying campaign, she ignored it. When there were reports of plagiarizing Michelle Obama the First Lady was “controlled” or facilitating her husband’s controversial behavior, she blamed others or declared herself the victim of unjustified attacks by disgruntled former advisers or “liberal media”.
However, according to former press secretary Stephanie Grisham, one of those grumpy former advisers, there was one notable case of Melania Trump privately escaping the appearance of infallibility. At that time, the ex-model, born in Slovenia, was the first lady at the center of the biggest PR disaster: When she wore the “jacket”.
In June 2018, Melania Trump notoriously donned a green Zara jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” on the back, while boarding a plane to visit immigrant children who had been separated from their parents at the Texas border.
As media frenzy and public outrage erupted over her sartorial choice, Melania Trump allowed her husband’s staff to take over damage control, something she rarely did, Grisham wrote in her new White House tell-all, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now.”
“That suggested to me that although she wouldn’t admit it, she knew she had messed up royally and that she was responsible for all of it,” Grisham wrote. “For the first and only time that I ever saw, Mrs. Trump put herself at the mercy of the POTUS Twitter account.”
Grisham devotes an entire chapter in her book to “The Damn Jacket.” She claims that Melania Trump had good intentions in traveling to the border, that she was “genuinely upset and concerned” about how her husband’s immigration policies were impacting children brought into the United States by their parents. She wanted to see for herself how children were being cared for.
On the day of the trip, Grisham said she was busy dealing with logistical details and wasn’t with Melania Trump when the motorcade left the White House for Joint Base Andrews. So, Grisham didn’t know the first lady was wearing the jacket when she boarded the plane to fly to Texas. By the time they arrived in Texas, Melania had changed outfits and didn’t wear the jacket when she toured a detention facility.
Grisham said she didn’t learn about the jacket until they were on the plane returning to Washington. Photos of the jacket had begun appearing in news stories and on social media, and people wondered what the first lady was trying to say: Was she sending a message to the president or her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump? To Democrats? The media?
Or worse: Was she actually saying something about the children being held in facilities that looked like cages?
A reporter texted Grisham, asking for a statement about the jacket. The reporter also sent Grisham a photo. “When I saw it, I cringed,” Grisham wrote. “Of all the many, many articles of clothing Mrs. Trump had available to her, all the great designs (her stylist) had put together, she’d decided to travel to border states where kids were being held in detention wearing a grass-colored jacket that in bright white letters read, I Really Don’t Care, Do U?”
Grisham’s initial response to the reporter was to downplay the issue, telling him that there was no hidden message and that it was silly to use a piece of clothing to conclude that the first lady didn’t care about the children.
When Grisham found Melania Trump in her cabin, the jacket was hanging over a captain’s chair, she wrote. When she asked the first lady about the message on its back, she “had a look on her face, the kind you might have when you know you (messed) something up.”
When Grisham asked Melania Trump why she wore it, she said, “It’s just a jacket.”
Grisham learned that the first lady had ordered the jacket online without consulting her stylist. Other than that, she never got a clear answer for why she wore it at such a politically sensitive moment — whether she was trying to send a message or had just grabbed something to wear while boarding the plane.
“I truly don’t know the answer,” Grisham said. “In any event, a well-meaning excursion had turned into another major PR disaster for the Trump White House. As if we needed it. … The truth was that it was such a stupid mistake, exacerbated by her stubbornness.”
As reporters’ inquiries grew, Melania Trump didn’t care about the media frenzy — or she “pretended not to care,” displaying “a studied indifference as though it were armor,” Grisham wrote.
But Melania Trump was made to care when her entourage arrived back at the White House and they learned she had been summoned to the Oval Office, something that rarely happened. Entering Trump’s private dining room, the president looked angrily at his wife, who was wearing the offending jacket, and her staff. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Melania Trump sat down next to him and smiled, which was “weird,” Grisham said. But her smile lessened Trump’s anger towards her. He instead turned his anger on her staff and they began with his team on “damage control.”
The president and his social media director, Dan Scavino, came up with a tweet that he posted on his now-suspended @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, declaring that the jacket was intended to send a message to the “Fake News Media.”
“Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” the tweet read.
Trump seemed pleased with his “perfect cover story” and yelled after his wife and Grisham as they left the Oval Office. “I just saved your ass,” he said. Melania Trump laughed and said, “Okay, Donald.”
Melania Trump seemed happy with her husband’s “cover story” moving forward. A few days later, her ex-best friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, asked about the jacket, as Winston Wolkoff recounted in her book, “Melania and Me,” about the fall-out of her friendship with the former first lady.
“I’m driving liberals crazy! You know what? They deserve it!” Melania Trump told Winston Wolkoff. She complained that people always made too much of what she wore, but congratulated herself on generating media for the situation on the border.
However, Melania Trump also insisted to Winston Wolkoff that the children were being well cared for and may be better off in one of the shelters. “They’re not with their parents, and it’s sad. But the patrols told me the kids say, ‘Wow, I get a bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes?’ It’s more than they have in their own country where they sleep on the floor. They are taking care of it nicely there.”
Melania Trump also told Winston Wolkoff that people will criticize her for anything she does. “I don’t care what they think. They’re always negative,” she said.