Australia

'Masters of the dark': Former friend lifts the lid on Donald and Melania Trump's marriage

The first lady of the United States is fully complicit in Donald Trump's actions and is "no different from her husband", according to a former friend and adviser of Melania Trump and the latest ex-White House insider to write a tell-all book.

But Mrs Trump has been "usurped" by the President's favourite daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, who have prevailed over the first lady in their fight for power and whose "need for control" is imperilling the United States, the former insider says.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff portrays a conniving and Machiavellian partnership in which Mrs Trump is prepared to do whatever it takes to support Trump's hold on power but accepts playing second fiddle to his favourite daughter, Ivanka, from his first marriage.

In an exclusive Australian interview to air on Sunday, Wolkoff tells 60 Minutes that despite often giving the impression they can't stand each other, the Trumps are "masters of the dark" who use distractions to deflect attention from activities they would prefer to shroud.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff first met Melania Trump in 2003 while she was special event director at Vogue magazine.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff first met Melania Trump in 2003 while she was special event director at Vogue magazine.Credit:60 Minutes / Nine Network

Several times Mrs Trump has been seen refusing to hold her husband's hand and swatting it away, prompting speculation about the status of their marriage. Wolkoff believes it is "100 per cent" deliberate and says the first time the act caused controversy, Mrs Trump hadn't even realised she had done it.

"They are aligned in a way that everything is done for a reason. Nothing just happens," she says. "You have to understand who they are to understand what they're trying to do, which is fleece the nation... She's no different from her husband."

Wolkoff describes a relationship not dissimilar to the psychopathic Underwoods from House of Cards; a "transactional marriage" which is all about supporting the "showman" Trump.

However, unlike Claire Underwood, Melania Trump has few policy or political aspirations and does not covet power herself. "She was happy at Trump Tower. She loved Trump Tower. She was thrilled at her life," Wolkoff says.

If her husband loses the presidency at the November 3 election, "she'll be in the south of France on a really big yacht with a really big brim hat doing what she's always wanted to do: nothing".

In her view, the first lady's apparent aloofness and superficiality is a way of avoiding scrutiny. "By remaining mysterious, by keeping up that steel wall, she doesn't have to answer to anyone. To make her human, and to make her feel, would mean opening herself up for criticism," Wolkoff says.

"Melania looks unapologetically, authentically skin-deep... The reality is she is not unhappy, she is complicit."

Wolkoff became friends with Melania Trump in 2003, when Wolkoff was directing special events for Vogue magazine, including New York City's famed Met Gala. They were regular lunchers, but the friendship didn't canvass politics.

Wolkoff helped organise the Trump inauguration, which became infamous for its low turnout despite the President's claims to the contrary. She then joined the first lady's office as a special adviser, working on a children's wellbeing initiative called "Be Best". Wolkoff says she tried to explain to Mrs Trump that the name was "illiterate" and "doesn't make sense".

Their relationship deteriorated after The New York Times reported Wolkoff's company received $US26 million ($35 million) to plan the inauguration. In the story, an inauguration committee operative said Wolkoff was personally paid $US1.6 million, although she says her actual fee was $US480,000.

Wolkoff left the first lady's office in early 2018, and her book Melania and Me relies heavily on quotes taken from conversations she secretly recorded with her boss after their friendship began to deteriorate.

"I pressed record for my safety, my protection and my validation, because of course they were going to turn around and say none of it was true," Wolkoff tells 60 Minutes. "I do not regret pressing record at all."

The former White House insider says the relationship between Mrs Trump and her stepdaughter Ivanka is genuinely strained, with the two rarely sitting down to talk face-to-face. She says the Trump presidency has been fundamentally altered for the worse by the ambitions of Ivanka and Kushner, who is also a special adviser to his father-in-law.

"Melania has been usurped by Ivanka. It's a very fair assessment to say that Ivanka and Jared's need to have control of the office and initiatives has won.

"That entire new ring of power is pretty much hidden from the rest of the world. I don't think our country would be in such peril today if Donald actually was President and he didn't have the two of them there with him. I think it was the worst thing that could have happened for our country."

Trump would love nothing more than for his daughter to become president, Wolkoff says. "The fact that he's literally getting Ivanka ready to become a president and already putting that in people's minds is sick, is just insane. And it can happen."

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