Whatever happened to Melania Trump?

Donald Trump and wife Melania meet family members of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly at Schlafly's funeral in St Louis, Missouri, on Sept 10, 2016.
Donald Trump and wife Melania meet family members of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly at Schlafly's funeral in St Louis, Missouri, on Sept 10, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - At this stage in the US presidential race, the candidates' spouses should be everywhere, smiling themselves to exhaustion as they do their bit for the campaign.

But for the past two months Mr Donald Trump's wife Melania has all but vanished.

The last big appearance of the 46-year-old former model born in Slovenia was at the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland.

She gave a major speech designed to put a more human face on her husband, but which flopped miserably as it emerged her address plagiarised remarks by Mrs Michelle Obama from 2008 at the Democratic National Convention.

The ghostwriter of the speech took the fall and Melania all but disappeared from the US political scene, where she was a rare presence anyway.

Last week, she appeared briefly in New York as Mr Trump gave a speech on national security, and accompanied her husband on Saturday (Sept 10) at the funeral of Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent American conservative.

But people have started asking what has become of Mr Trump's wife, with the hashtag #WhereisMelania surfacing on Twitter.

The night before the Sept 11 anniversary last weekend, Melania responded that she has been spending time with her family.

Before the Republican convention she gave several interviews in which she ardently defended her husband, criticised for his brash style, comments seen as racist and sexist and his lack of knowledge on issues both foreign and domestic.

At that time she said she preferred to focus on the education of her 10-year-old son with Mr Trump, Barron, at their home in Trump Tower in New York.

Since the convention, she has been protecting herself. Her Twitter feed - once a reflection of her jet set lifestyle and posh parties she attended, dressed to the nines - has become a way for her to defend herself.

 

At the end of July, her website was yanked after a controversy over an architecture degree that it mentioned but which she did not earn.

 

"The website in question was created in 2012 and has been removed because it does not accurately reflects my current business and professional interests," she tweeted.

In early August, nude photos of her published by the New York Post triggered another mess.

They were supposedly taken in the US in 1995, but she always said she arrived in the country in 1996, so the shots raised questions about her immigration status at the time they were taken.

Mr Trump, who has vowed to deport all immigrants who are in the US illegally, promised a press conference at which Melania, a US citizen since 2006, would provide an explanation.

Instead, a month later, she took to Twitter once again on Wednesday to respond to the controversy.

"I am pleased to enclose a letter from my immigration attorney which states that, with 100 per cent certainty, I correctly went through the legal process when arriving in the USA," she tweeted.

In the attached letter, attorney Michael Wildes states: "Through an interview with Mrs Trump, we ascertained that the photo shoot in question did not occur until after she was admitted to the United States in H-1B visa status in October 1996."

In early September, she also sued two publications - the Daily Mail online and the blog Tarpley - for reporting she had worked as an escort in the 1990s. She sought US$150 million (S$200 million) in damages and interest.

At least two other websites removed similar stories, acknowledging they were based on rumours and apologising to her.

In 1999, as Mr Trump sought to become the presidential candidate of the Reform party, she told the New York Times she would be a very traditional first lady - "like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy. I would support him".

But with the 2016 election less than 60 days away, there is little sign that she will join her husband on the campaign trail any time soon.