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White House

Melania Trump expressed surprise over Vogue selection of Beyoncé for 2018 cover

In a secretly recorded conversation, the first lady also spoke about Vogue's decision to choose a Black photographer to shoot the cover for the magazine's September 2018 issue.
First Lady Melania Trump Attends Briefing For Indian Health System Taskforce
Melania Trump attends a meeting of the President's Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health System in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 23.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

First lady Melania Trump appeared to express astonishment over Vogue magazine's decision to feature Beyoncé on the cover of its September 2018 issue and to give her editorial input, according to a secretly recorded phone conversation shared with NBC News.

"Anna gave the September issue of Vogue cover — complete, complete, complete, everything — to Beyoncé," Trump, referring to Vogue editor Anna Wintour, says in a July 2018 conversation recorded by her then-friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

"She hired Black photographer," she says. "And it's the first Black photographer ever doing cover of Vogue."

The statement was made after Trump and Winston Wolkoff, her former friend and adviser who had previously spent a decade at Vogue, discussed the departure of top editors at the venerable fashion magazine.

The September 2018 issue made history as the first one for which a Black photographer was selected to shoot its cover star. Beyoncé said at the time that 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 Beyoncé, the star immediately said yes to the opportunity to work with this young artist," the magazine said at the time.

In a statement, Trump's spokeswoman attacked Winston Wolkoff — who wrote the book "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady" — but didn't directly address the remarks about Beyoncé.

"Her narcissism knows no bounds, this woman is a fraud," said the 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.

IMAGE: Beyonce on the cover of Vogue
Beyoncé is featured on the cover of the September 2018 issue of Vogue magazine.Vogue

Trump's remarks about the Beyoncé cover were made in one of six recorded telephone conversations, lasting more than six hours, that took place from February to July 2018. Winston Wolkoff began recording her calls with Trump after she was asked to leave the White House amid scrutiny over spending by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which she worked on.

Trump has maintained a carefully guarded persona since she assumed 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, she at times sounds remarkably similar to President Donald Trump.

She calls the press "stupid," describes Democrats as "nasty" and hails her husband as "the most popular Republican president ever."

She also opens up about a series of other topics, from "princess" Ivanka to the Steele dossier to her TV news viewing.

She talks to Winston Wolkoff at length about how she pays close attention to media coverage to keep informed and how she doesn't stay only "in the bubble of Fox."

"I watch CNN. I watch MSNBC," Trump says before referring to the president. "Hello. And then they said, 'Oh, he got angry because my TV.' Hello. I watch what I want."

She laughs and 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 gets favorable news coverage.

At one point, she refers to a trip to the U.S. border with Mexico in June 2018 to visit migrant children in detention who were separated from their parents. Trump notes that her predecessor, Michelle Obama, made no such trip.

"When did the previous first lady went down to the border and visit them?" Trump asks. "Never."

"I asked, 'Did she ever went?'" she continues. "They said, like, no. No records."

The jacket Trump wore during her trip to the Texas detention facility — which featured the slogan "I really don't care. Do u?" — drew wide scrutiny at the time.

Trump's fashion choices were a frequent topic of conversation between the two women. She 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 that 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,'" Trump says.

"Are you kidding?" she adds. "It never even crossed my mind."

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," Trump says. "If you really think about it, right? She was, like, skinny, short, tiny. I'm not that way."

David Wolkoff, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Melania Trump and Donald Trump
David Wolkoff, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Melania Trump and Donald Trump attend a benefit event at the United Nations on Feb. 6, 2008.Billy Farrell / Patrick McMullan via Getty Image file

The recorded conversations took place during five months when multiple associates of Donald Trump were ensnared in the special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In one of the recorded calls, Melania Trump 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," she told Winston Wolkoff in June 2018.

She also described watching the drip of news from inside the White House as Robert Mueller's inquiry 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," she says.

She also discusses the dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent whose research on links between Donald 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 Melania Trump rarely interacts with Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser. In her book, Winston Wolkoff said Melania Trump refers to Ivanka Trump as "princess."

In one of the taped calls, Winston Wolkoff asks, "How's princess?"

"I don't know. I don't know," Trump responds.

She goes on to refer to a New York Times article stating that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are taking on expanded White House roles.

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. Trump described her shock over the magazine's choosing to feature Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she alleged she had with Donald 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."

Trump, a former model, goes 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 tells Winston Wolkoff, a former Vogue special events director who planned the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala and later worked as founding fashion director for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Trump also says she turned down an opportunity to be profiled in the magazine.

"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 the conversations after Melania Trump failed to offer public support following news reports suggesting that 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 that she made a personal appeal to Trump to defend her but that Trump 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 New York, and it was the target of a lawsuit by the attorney general of Washington, D.C.

"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."

About $26 million flowed through a company in which Winston Wolkoff was a partner. The vast majority of the 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, alleging that she broke 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."