Her movements turned into something of a political Rorschach test. Did they symbolize a need to unwind, a deep displeasure with her role, or both?
Her independent travel in recent weeks is set against a salacious backdrop: A Wall Street Journal report that the porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an affair she had a decade earlier with President Trump — when the Trumps were newlyweds, and while Melania Trump was pregnant with their son, Barron.
The reports of a payoff blindsided the first lady, who was furious with her husband, according to two people close to the couple.
On Tuesday, Melania Trump is expected to resurface. The White House said that she will attend Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. The East Wing gave a tentative confirmation on Monday: “That is the plan,” her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said an e-mail.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Melania Trump would attend, but that Barron would not.
The uncertainty over Melania Trump’s appearance was in contrast to her willingness to show up and support Donald Trump in the past. He has long been able to rely on his wife to step in to rationalize his behavior, dismiss his accusers or hit back against naysayers.
After the story about Daniels, there was no such pushback from the East Wing, and little in the way of public statements. After days of swirling rumors and repeated refusals to comment on the Melania Trump’s whereabouts after canceling her trip to Davos, Switzerland, with the president, the first lady’s spokeswoman seemed to have had enough.
“The laundry list of salacious & flat-out false reporting about Mrs. Trump by tabloid publications & TV shows has seeped into ‘main stream media’ reporting,” Grisham wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “She is focused on her family & role as FLOTUS — not the unrealistic scenarios being peddled daily by the fake news.”
This month, the East Wing has worked to swat down all manner of rumors about Melania Trump’s whereabouts and psyche, beginning with “Fire and Fury,” a book by Michael Wolff that described Melania Trump as a first-lady-to-be who had not supported Donald Trump’s candidacy and cried on election night. The first lady, who is known to instruct her aides to publicly hit back at reports on her behalf, had them emphatically deny Wolff’s account.