Melania Trump escapes glare of affair headlines in Florida

In this March 20, 2018 photo, First lady Melania Trump listens during a roundtable on cyberbullying in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Spring break couldn't have come at a better time for Melania Trump.

With fresh details spilling into the headlines daily about how Donald Trump allegedly cheated on her early in their marriage, the former model escaped the intense glare by spending the past week at the family's estate in Palm Beach, Florida, with their 12-year-old son, Barron.

But even then, there was no perfect refuge from the attention to recent legal activity related to the president's past conduct with women.

On Mrs. Trump's first full day away, when the president also was at their Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump had dinner not with her but with attorney Michael Cohen — who paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016 to keep her from going public with her story of a 2006 tryst with Trump. The Trumps did dine together on Thursday night after the president returned to Florida, with boxing promoter Don King stopping by to chat.

Some say the first lady should exit her 13-year union with Trump, much like Hillary Clinton was urged to do after President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky became public in the late 1990s.

"Melania should do for this generation of girls what Hillary Clinton did not do for mine and leave her jerk of a husband," conservative commentator S.E. Cupp wrote in an opinion piece that recently was splashed across the front page of the New York Daily News — one of Trump's hometown newspapers — with the headline "Dump Trump!"

Trump himself recently joked about the possibility of his wife leaving him. She was seated at the head table at a Washington dinner last month where the president, in a speech that traditionally pokes at friends and adversaries, addressed the heavy staff churn at the White House.

"Now the question everyone keeps asking is, 'Who's going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?'" he said, referring to policy adviser Stephen Miller. "That is terrible, honey, but you love me, right?"

A Marist-McClatchy Poll in February found the public divided on the issue. Forty-three per cent said the first lady should stay married to Trump, 34 per cent said she should leave her husband and 23 per cent weren't sure what she should do.

Through it all, Mrs. Trump has kept a steely silence on claims by Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal that they had sexual relationships with Trump that began in 2006 just after the future first lady gave birth.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump, responded to questions about Daniels and McDougal by saying the first lady is "focused on being a mom" and spent the break working on future projects, including Monday's annual White House Easter Egg Roll and the coming state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron on April 24.

Mrs. Trump kept up an everything's-normal Twitter feed during the week, posting about her recent participation in the State Department's courage awards, a White House discussion she had convened on cyberbullying, an upcoming opioids exhibit near the White House, White House garden tours and her surprise visit to a Florida hospital Thursday to deliver Easter baskets to young patients.

She is silent now on her husband's dealings with other women, but has traversed this awkward terrain before.

"People think and talk about me like, 'Oh Melania, Oh poor Melania,'" she told CNN in a 2016 interview. "Don't feel sorry for me. I can handle everything."

She gave that interview after Trump was heard on a decade-old audiotape describing how he had grabbed women by their genitals and kissed them without permission. Trump at the time also faced accusations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women. He has called the women's charges false, and said he was engaging in "locker-room talk" on the tape.

Some fault Mrs. Trump for making the "politically freighted choice" of going ahead with what the White House said is her traditional spring break getaway.

Iowa State University history professor Stacy Cordery said most people will forgive an erring man when his wife stands by him. But "we don't see any evidence of her standing by him in that way. Even though she's an extremely private person, she could still appear at his side, but she's choosing not to," added Cordery, a first lady scholar.

The allegations don't appear to have hurt Trump politically. The White House often notes that Trump was elected even though voters knew about sexual misconduct allegations against him. Trump's approval rating, meanwhile, is up 7 points since last month to 42 per cent, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Friends say the first lady, who met Trump while his divorce from his second wife was being finalized, can handle what's coming at her.

"The first lady is very strong. She's, unfortunately, used to attacks of fake news," said Paolo Zampolli, her friend and former modeling agent.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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This story has been corrected to show that the first lady met, not married, Trump while his divorce was being finalized.


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