A former friend of Melania Trump has released new recordings of the First Lady, in which she vents about criticism she copped over her husband's immigration policies.
The ex-friend in question is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a high-profile event planner who fell out with Melania Trump after she helped produce President Donald Trump's US$107 million (NZ$160m) inauguration in 2017.
The event was dogged by allegations of funds being misused – it sparked a federal investigation – and Wolkoff felt she was made a scapegoat for decisions made by Trump and his staff.
She recently released a tell-all book, which included a number of private comments Melania Trump had made, including disparaging ones about her own family members.
They were reportedly based on secret audio recordings.
Wolkoff was interviewed on CNN today. The network played excerpts from one recording, taken in July of 2018.
It came from a private conversation between Wolkoff and Melania Trump from the time when they were still friends.
Melania Trump can be heard complaining about part of her job, which involves decorating the White House for Christmas, and more broadly about the criticism she sometimes receives for President Trump's actions.
"They say I'm complicit, I'm the same like him, I support him, I don't say enough, I don't do enough," she says.
"I'm working like a – my ass off at Christmas stuff that, you know, who gives a f*** about Christmas stuff and decoration? But I need to do it, right?"
"A hundred per cent. You have no choice," Wolkoff agrees.
"Okay, and then I do it. And I say that I'm working on Christmas planning for the Christmas," Melania Trump continues.
"And they said, 'Oh, what about the children that were separated? Give me a f***ing break. Were they were saying anything when Obama did that?"
"I know," Wolkoff sympathises.
"I cannot go. I was trying to get the kid reunited with the mum. I didn't have a chance – needs to go through the process and through the law," Melania Trump says.
She was referring to the US government's policy, since abandoned, of separating the children of undocumented migrants from their parents at the border.
Under Barack Obama, separations occurred when authorities had concerns about the child's wellbeing or could not confirm that the adult with them was actually their legal guardian.
President Trump imposed more of a blanket policy, but eventually ended it through an executive order after a political backlash.
A judge ordered the government to reunite the children with their families. It later emerged it might be impossible to do so for thousands of the children, as the relevant department did not have the resources to track them down.
Back to the recording.
Melania Trump can be heard insisting the children in detention were actually been treated better than media reports suggested.
"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 says.
"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 illegally, you know, you need to do something.
"A lot of like, mums and kids, they are [taught] how to do it. They go over and they say like, 'Oh, we will be killed by a gang member. We will be, you know, it's so dangerous.' So they are allowed to stay here.
"They're not professional, but they are [taught] 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."
Host Anderson Cooper confronted Wolkoff over the ethics of secretly taping someone.
He read her a statement from Melania Trump's chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham.
"Secretly taping the First Lady and wilfully breaking a nondisclosure agreement to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance," Grisham said.
"The timing of this continues to be suspect, as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism."
"I just think that she just lost the women's vote," Wolkoff said in response.
"I mean, I think that after watching the debate the other evening, and how disgraceful and how upsetting it was to see our leader act in such – I don't even have the words to express how blatantly rude it was to act that way. And to see Melania walk on stage to smile at him. And gesture at him. And to be okay with that kind of behaviour.
"The most important voice right now should be Melania's voice. She has no voice as his wife. The one woman we need more than ever isn't coming to the plate."
None of that really spoke to the issue at hand, so Cooper tried posing it in a different way.
"What was the thinking on recording?" he asked her.
"So here's the thing that I think most people don't understand. I had already hired my legal team while still inside the White House," Wolkoff replied.
"I became extremely concerned. I expressed those concerns to Melania, and Donald, but Melania actually was one person that I went to, and she and I talked about the need for a lawyer. And so the next day, I did, I went and hired a lawyer, and made sure that everything in my communication with the White House since January was documented.
"I had begun before I was even severed."
That didn't really answer the question either.
In another recording played by CNN, Melania Trump and Wolkoff discuss the First Lady's "legacy".
"Who supports Melania? You do have a legacy," Wolkoff tells Melania Trump.
"You know what I'm saying, right? You do know what I'm staying. You shouldn't have – people across the world – in New York, it was always Melania, Melania, Melania."
"I don't give a f***," Melania Trump interjects.
"It's not about giving a f***. It's about-" Wolkoff starts to say.
"It's true. It's true," Melania Trump says.
"Honestly, I'm doing the same stuff that I did before. They cannot stand him. They know that I'm with him."
"But they felt badly for you before! Now they – do you know what I'm saying?" Wolkoff asks.
"Okay, all that bulls*** stuff. All that stuff came out. They feel bad for me, my polls went up, they said, 'Oh my god, she's amazing, she's fantastic,'" Melania Trump says.
"But here's my thing. Hear what you just said? But instead of that, if you just – your messaging. You were so loved. You were," her then-friend tells her.
"They will not do the story!" Melania Trump exclaims.
"We put it out, they would not do the story. You would not believe it, they would not do the story. Because they are not – they would not do the story because they, they, they are against us. Because they're liberal media.
"Yeah, if I go to Fox, they will do the story. I don't want to go to Fox."
Cooper asked Woldoff, who worked in the White House for a time, what Melania Trump actually cared about doing as First Lady.
"Well at first, Melania really did want to make a difference," Wolkoff said.
"But I do believe that she's complicit in everything that's going on. I mean, instead of falling out of line, she toed the line."
"Is she a cheerleader of the President? Is she a supporter of the President. Does she like the President?" Cooper asked.
"Actually she does, very much so," Wolkoff said.
"Melania holds a role like no other person in the White House. I mean anyone. She doesn't shake in her boots ever, and she tells Donald exactly how she feels.
"She is his biggest cheerleader, and she does believe that if he's going to do it, he better do it right, and he better do it with brass knuckles, and he better do it now."