‘She’s a hammer’: Melania Trump is one tough first lady
White House insiders paint picture of a tough player with an ear for those who 'suck up', a new book reveals
A picture has emerged of Melania Trump as a key, and tough, behind-the-scenes player in her husband’s administration.
A new book that claims to shed light on wrangling in the White House over whether the US should stay in Nato, and how the president almost started a war with North Korea, also presents an unknown side to Melania Trump.
The first lady has more influence with the president than anyone, identifying who is telling him the truth, and who is “sucking up”, according to Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist who is quoted in Fear: Trump in the White House by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward.
“Behind the scenes she’s a hammer,” Bannon told Woodward.
People close to the Trumps are quoted as saying there is “sincere affection” in the relationship and they eat dinner together at times, but that Melania “operated independently”.
Another insider said she was “obsessed” with raising their son Barron, and that was “her focus 100%”.
Playing with fire
Meanwhile, Woodward reveals that Trump decided early in his presidency that the US would stay in Nato, but told his defence secretary James Mattis to become its “rent collector”. Following a crunch meeting at the White House, to decide whether Trump was “in or out” of the alliance, the president was persuaded and told Mattis: “You can have your Nato.”
According to the book, a dinner meeting to decide Nato policy was convened at the White House at 6.30pm on February 8 2017 by then chief of staff Reince Priebus. US policy had to be settled before a speech by Mattis in Munich a week later. Trump insisted on talking about the gossip of the day, until dessert, when Priebus said: “We’ve really got to deal with the Nato issue.”
Retired general Keith Kellogg, the National Security Council chief of staff, argued that Nato was “obsolete” and the US was being “used” by allies. Mattis and Joseph Dunford, chairperson of the joint chiefs of staff, argued in favour of Nato, according to the book.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, also interjected, saying the US was only losing “pennies on the dollar” in supporting Nato.
Mattis had confidence Germany would meet the target of paying 2% of GDP on defence. He added: “If you didn’t have Nato you would have to invent it. There’s no way Russia could win a war if they took on Nato.”
At the end of the dinner Trump told Mattis the US would support Nato but allies must pay, saying: “You can have your Nato. But you become the rent collector.”
Mattis reportedly laughed and nodded.
The prospect of conflict with North Korea reportedly came closest early this year when Trump proposed sending a tweet ordering home the families of the 28,500 US military personnel stationed in South Korea. North Korea had previously made it clear it would regard such a move as a sign of imminent attack.
Trump’s planned tweet was considered “almost unthinkable” by aides, Woodward wrote. The president later raised the idea with Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator with whom he plays golf. Graham reportedly told him: “That is a big frigging deal, Mr President. I don’t think you should ever start this process unless you are ready to go to war.”
According to the book, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s doctor until earlier this year, repeatedly advised John Kelly, his chief of staff, to “dial back” the president’s schedule because he was “under stress”. Kelly responded by introducing more non-specific “executive time” to the schedule.
– © The Daily Telegraph