There’s only a handful of people in Melania Trump‘s inner circle and three years later, the general public and White House pool of reporters are still trying to figure out the most basic details of the well-kept secret that is the first lady’s daily life.
CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett has been covering Trump, 49, full-time for the last three years and published the most complete — if not still foggy — glimpse into the first lady’s life inside the White House with an unauthorized biography Free, Melania.
This week, Bennett expanded on her unique view into the first lady’s daily life during an interview with New York Magazine‘s Olivia Nuzzi in a recent piece for The Cut.
The interview covers the goal behind Bennett’s book — which the White House cooperated with and then later disputed after it was published — and what it was like for the author to try to get a glimpse into Trump’s life while she offers so few opportunities for the public to see what she’s really like.
Bennett told The Cut she wanted to answer questions she routinely gets asked about the first lady, like “What is she really like? What does she do all day?” to which the author explains that Trump treats her daily upkeep of the White House like a job, from things like “‘Let’s pick the guest list for the next luncheon.’ Or, ‘Oh, we have to go over the wreaths,'” Bennett says.
“It is, essentially, a wealthy woman’s life, and that is basically what she was: a wealthy, stay-at-home mom with three homes,” Bennett tells The Cut. “And thinking about, ‘Oh God, it’s already August, we have to start thinking about the Thanksgiving table arrangements.’ For her that’s a very real work day.”
Bennett told The Cut she didn’t “pull any punches” while writing the unauthorized biography, even though the White House was upset about her coverage. The CNN reporter even hypothesized in the interview that some of the White House’s criticism of Trump’s coverage comes from the first lady herself.
“Even last week, a source told me that the East Wing was upset about my coverage of her getting booed in Baltimore. And I’m like, ‘the East Wing’ means Melania,” Bennett said.
The book, which relies on both named and unnamed sources, suggests Trump has a lot more control over her life and the White House than has been previously reported.
“Not only did Melania have power and influence with the president, she perhaps had more of both than anyone else in the entire White House,” Bennett writes in a section about Trump’s influence in a personnel dispute.
In another section, Bennett suggests the first lady’s infamous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket worn the day she visited migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border was a calculated jab at first daughter Ivanka Trump, rather than a misguided political statement.
“She doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her,” Bennett writes in the book. “Whether people assume she is complicit in Trump’s beliefs and actions by being married to him and staying married to him or whether they think she is standing by his side because she is a noble adherent to traditional marriage — it doesn’t matter to her.”
Still, Bennett had to be careful about what she published in the book given Trump’s tight circle — “she has, like, three people around her,” the author says — because of the potential of damaging the relationships between the first lady and her select friends.
“There are certainly things that I know about that would have made for really juicy stuff for the book — and I hate to be a tease. But because of those relationships and because her world is so small, and she does that by design, she will know who told me what,” Bennett told The Cut. “And so, I don’t nor can I really in good faith destroy someone’s life or friendship or job just because I want to.”
Though Bennett says her carefulness still didn’t win over any favors with the White House, which said the final version of the book was a “surprise” and contained “many false details.”
“I don’t think that they’re happy about the book, but I knew she wouldn’t be, because she thinks everybody is out to make a dime from her,” Bennett said. “But I do think it’s a fair portrayal of her.”