First lady Melania Trump downplayed her husband's family separation policy in a secret phone recording released by a former adviser on Thursday.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former close friend and adviser to the first lady who drew scrutiny over her role in President Donald Trump's pricey inauguration before writing a tell-all book defending herself, handed over a recording from summer of 2018 to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"They say I'm complicit. I'm the same like him. I support him. I don't say enough. I don't do enough where I am," Melania Trump complained to Wolkoff in the recording while discussing her trip to a child detention facility. (The first lady infamously wore a coat saying "I really don't care, do u?" on the trip.)
"I'm working . . . my ass off on the Christmas stuff — that you know. Who gives a f*ck about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right? OK," she said. "And then I do it, and I say that I'm working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas. And they said, 'Oh, what about the children that they were separated?' Give me a f*cking break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I cannot go, 'I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn't have a chance — needs to go through the process and through the law.'"
However, her husband's policy was not the same as former President Barack Obama's policy. Under Obama, children were separated only when authorities had concerns about their well-being or could not confirm if an adult was their legal guardian. Trump's policy separated all children from their families at the border until a judge forced the administration to stop.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's chief of staff, criticized Wolkoff over the tape's release.
"Secretly taping the first lady and willfully breaking an NDA to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance," she said in a statement to CNN. "The timing of this continues to be suspect — as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism."
Earlier in the recording, Melania Trump argued that the child detention centers had better conditions than the areas from which the migrant children had fled.
"The kids, they say, 'Wow I will have my own bed? I will sleep on the bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes?' It's so sad to hear it, but they didn't have that in their own countries. They sleep on the floor," she said. "They are taken care of nicely there. But you know, yeah, they are not with parents. It's sad. But when they come here alone, or with coyotes or illegally — you know, you need to do something."
She also echoed her husband's claim that families are "teached" to say that they would be in danger if they return to their home countries.
"It's not true that they would. You know what I mean," she said. "They're not professional, but they are teached by other people what to say to come over and to, you know, let them go to stay here. Because they could easily stay in Mexico, but they don't want to stay in Mexico because Mexico doesn't take care of them the same as America does."
Elsewhere in the recording, the first lady echoed her husband's criticism of the "liberal media."
"I'm driving liberals crazy. That's for sure," she said. "And that, you know . . . And they deserve it. You understand. And everybody's like, 'Oh, my God. This is the worst. This is the worst.' After — I mean, come on. They are crazy, OK?"
Wolkoff, who had been friends with Melania for more than a decade, went on to become the first lady's senior adviser at the White House. But Wolkoff's relationship with the Trump family soured after documents showed that her firm had been paid more than $26 million to organize events around the inauguration.
Wolkoff said she believed she would be scapegoated in the investigation into Trump's inauguration. Documents show her firm got $1.6 million, while the rest went to contractors. She personally earned about $500,000 from the inauguration, according to The New York Times.
Wolkoff recorded about a year's worth of conversations with Melania after she was fired from her unpaid position as adviser in 2018 amid scrutiny into the inaugural spending.
Wolkoff told Cooper on Thursday that the family separation policy had "set off" the first lady's "maternal instincts," but she fell in line with the administration's agenda in the end.
"Regardless of that, she steps in line, and she just decides that what she has heard and what she's been told is what the rule of law is in our country," Wolkoff said of Trump. "On the flip side, Melania — the traditions of first lady and president have gone out the window with this couple. And I feel that if there were — there is so much that could be done, but again, no support. No understanding."