First lady Melania Trump appeared to express astonishment over Vogue magazine’s decision to feature Beyoncé on the cover of the September 2018 issue and give her editorial input, according to a secretly-recorded phone conversation shared with NBC News.
“Anna [Wintour] gave the September issue of Vogue cover - complete, complete, complete, everything - to Beyoncé,” the first lady says in a July 2018 conversation recorded by her then-friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
“She hired black photographer. And it’s the first black photographer ever doing cover of Vogue.”
The statement was made after Melania Trump and Winston Wolkoff, her former friend and adviser who previously spent a decade at Vogue, discussed the departure of top editors at the venerable fashion magazine.
The September 2018 issue of Vogue magazine made history as the first time a Black photographer was selected to shoot its cover star. Beyonce said at the time she saw the issue as an opportunity to provide more opportunities to Black artists like the cover photographer, Tyler Mitchell.
Vogue described the cover as “truly a collaborative effort.”
“When Vogue suggested photographer Tyler Mitchell to Beyonce, the star immediately said yes to the opportunity to work with this young artist," the magazine said at the time.
In a statement, Melania Trump’s spokesperson attacked Winston Wolkoff – who authored the book, “Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady – but didn’t directly address the Beyoncé remarks.
“Her narcissism knows no bounds, this woman is a fraud,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. “These audio tapes are hand-picked about nonsense and presented with no context. Shame on her for this continued attempt at character assassination and shame on NBC for covering this gossip.”
A spokesperson for Beyoncé declined to comment.
The first lady’s remarks on the Beyoncé cover were made in one of six recorded telephone conversations, lasting more than six hours, that took place between February and July 2018. Winston Wolkoff began recording her calls with the first lady after she was asked to leave the White House amid scrutiny over spending by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which she worked on.
Melania Trump has maintained a carefully guarded persona since assuming the role of first lady, revealing little about her personal beliefs and largely staying out of the political fray.
But in the previously-undisclosed recorded phone calls, the first lady at times sounds remarkably similar to President Trump.
She calls the press “stupid,” describes Democrats as “nasty,” and hails her husband as “the most popular Republican president ever.”
Melania Trump also opens up on a series of other topics ranging from “princess” Ivanka to the Steele dossier to her TV news viewing.
The first lady talks to Winston Wolkoff at length about how she pays close attention to media coverage to keep informed and doesn’t only stay “in the bubble of FOX.”
“I watch CNN. I watch MSNBC,” Melania Trump says, before referencing the president. “Hello. And then they said, 'Oh, he got angry because my TV. Hello. I watch what I want."
The first lady laughs. Then adds: “Of course I will have CNN and MSNBC and stuff. I watch whatever I want. And people think like, ‘Oh, poor Melania. Oh, he’s telling her what to watch.’ No, he’s not.”
But she also describes feeling under assault by the media and laments, like her husband, that she rarely receives favorable press coverage.
At one point, she references a June 2018 trip to the southern border to visit migrant children in detention who were separated from their parents. Melania Trump notes that former first lady Michelle Obama made no such trip.
“When did the previous first lady went down to the border and visit them?” Melania Trump says. “Never.”
“I asked, ‘Did she ever went?’” she continues. “They said, like, no. No records.”
The jacket worn by the first lady during her trip to the Texas detention facility – which featured the phrase, “I really don’t care. Do u?” – drew wide scrutiny at the time.
Melania Trump’s fashion choices were a frequent topic of conversation between the two women.
The first lady expresses bemusement over the effort by some to ascribe meaning to the clothing she chooses. During one call, she scoffs at a reporter who suggested she might have worn a pink designer dress in honor of gay pride.
“They saying, ‘She was wearing that dress because she didn’t say anything about gay parade on Sunday but she wore Monday to give the nod for the gay people,’” Melania Trump says.
“Are you kidding?” she adds. “It never even crossed my mind.”
Melania Trump also reflects on comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former first lady who was known for her style.
“We are such a different type of women,” Melania Trump says. “If you really think about it, right? She was, like, skinny, short, tiny. I’m not that way.”
The recorded conversations took place during a five-month span when multiple Trump associates were ensnared in the special counsel’s probe into Russian election meddling.
In one of the recorded calls, the first lady offers sympathy for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager who was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison for a raft of crimes, including witness tampering, tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
“Look how unfair it is for Manafort,” Melania Trump told Winston Wolkoff in June 2018.
The first lady also described watching the drip of news from inside the White House as Robert Mueller’s probe was gaining steam.
“We don’t know who they’re looking in because they are so quiet and then suddenly one day they come out,” Melania Trump says.
She also discusses the dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent whose research on links between Trump and Russia was funded by Democrats.
The dossier, which Buzzfeed published in 2017, included salacious but uncorroborated allegations about the president.
“It’s all fiction,” Melania Trump says on one call. “It’s all bs.”
The recordings suggest that the former first lady rarely interacts with Ivanka Trump. In her book, Winston Wolkoff said that Melania Trump refers to Ivanka as “princess.”
In one of the taped calls, Winston Wolkoff asks, “How’s princess?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Melania Trump responds.
She goes on to refer to a New York Times article stating that Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are taking on expanded White House roles.
Melania Trump says she doesn’t waste her time meeting with the couple because they always carry things out “their own way.”
“They would not do it what I said,” she says. “I’m just wasting my energy. For what?”
The conversation about Vogue carried on during the July 2018 call. The first lady described her shock over the magazine choosing to feature Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who was paid $130,000 to keep quiet over an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
In a recording first heard on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s podcast, Melania Trump refers to Daniels as “the porn hooker.”
The first lady, a former model, went on to say she would never be selected to appear on the cover of the magazine’s coveted September issue.
“They would never do it,” she says to Winston Wolkoff, a former Vogue special events director who planned the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute Gala and later worked as founding fashion director for Lincoln Center.
Melania Trump also notes that she turned down an opportunity to be profiled in the fashion magazine run by editor Anna Wintour.
“I don’t give a f--- about Vogue,” she says.
Winston Wolkoff, who helped plan the 2017 Trump inaugural festivities, left the White House in 2018 amid scrutiny over spending for the event.
Winston Wolkoff said she started recording her conversations with Melania Trump after the first lady failed to offer public support following press reports suggesting she reaped enormous profits from the events.
“The tapes were first and foremost for my protection and safety,” Winston Wolkoff told NBC News. “They became my insurance policy so nobody could refute the truth.”
Winston Wolkoff said she made a personal appeal to Melania Trump to defend her, but the first lady refused, citing a “possible investigation” into the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Spending for the inauguration later became the subject of investigations by Mueller, as well as federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and was the target of a lawsuit by Washington, D.C.'s attorney general.
“Instead of making a statement on my behalf, she was complicit with the administration's decision to make me the scapegoat for the unaccounted and overspending of the $107 million,” Winston Wolkoff said. “It was painfully clear at that point that she was no longer my friend, so I pressed record on the conversations I had with Melania.”
Winston Wolkoff added: “I had nothing to do with inaugural donations and I had no access, jurisdiction or authority over any inaugural payments. I did repeatedly raise concerns about the inaugural committee’s financial management.”
Roughly $26 million flowed through a company in which Winston Wolkoff was a partner. The vast majority of that money went to another vendor to pay for live broadcasts of several inaugural events and other expenses.
“I had no discretionary approval rights over the budget,” she said. "I had no authority to sign checks on behalf of the entity."
Last week, the Justice Department sued Winston Wolkoff for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement she signed while working at the White House. Winston Wolkoff has said she has a right to defend herself against “defamatory falsehoods.”
In one of the recordings made after Winston Wolkoff left the White House, Melania Trump told her: “Don’t be so dramatic. You were not fired. This came to that because of politics.”