WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - United States First Lady Melania Trump delivered a profanity-laced rant about Christmas decorations at the White House and mocked the plight of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border in 2018 during a conversation secretly taped by a former aide and close confidante.
"I'm working like a - my ass off at Christmas stuff," Mrs Trump lamented to the former aide, Ms Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who has just published a tell-all book, in a recording that was first broadcast on CNN on Thursday (Oct 1) night.
Mrs Trump continued: "You know, who gives a **** about Christmas stuff and decoration?"
Later in the conversation, which occurred in July 2018, the First Lady complained about the criticism levelled at President Donald Trump and his administration that summer for separating families in a crackdown on immigration.
"I say that I'm working on Christmas planning for the Christmas, and they said, 'Oh, what about the children?' That they were separated."
She used another obscenity to express her exasperation, asking Ms Winston Wolkoff: "Were they saying anything when Obama did that?"
The audio recording puts the First Lady's frustrations on full display only weeks before Mr Trump faces voters in his bid for a second term.
In a statement, Ms Stephanie Grisham, the First Lady's chief of staff, accused Ms Winston Wolkoff of seeking to profit by releasing the recordings even as she tries to increase sales of her book, Melania And Me.
"Her only intent was to secretly tape the First Lady in order to peddle herself and her salacious book," Ms Grisham said. "There is no way to know if these recordings have been edited, and it's clear the clips were hand-picked and presented with no context. The First Lady remains focused on her family and serving our country."
As First Lady, Mrs Trump has been somewhat reclusive, holding few formal dinners or parties at the White House and keeping a mostly low profile. Critics have mocked her "Be Best" programme, intended to encourage children to model good behaviour, saying that the President hardly abides by that credo.
Ms Winston Wolkoff's book was published this year after a falling-out between the two women. Ms Winston Wolkoff left the White House in early 2018 after it was revealed that her firm had received US$26 million (S$35.5 million) to help plan the President's inauguration.
The recordings appear to present Mrs Trump as irritated that she does not receive the positive news coverage that she believes she deserves, in part because people say she is not speaking out enough about her husband's actions as president.
"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 tells Ms Winston Wolkoff in a conversation that sounds as if she is confiding in a close friend.
The conversation took place only weeks after Mrs Trump made headlines when she travelled to an immigrant shelter for children in Texas along the Mexican border and wore a jacket that read, in white capital letters, "I really don't care. Do U?"
At the time, the President and the First Lady's spokesman said that the message on the jacket was aimed at reporters, not at the children she was visiting.
Asked by Ms Winston Wolkoff why she wore the jacket, Mrs Trump said she did it to annoy her husband's critics.
"I'm driving liberals crazy, that's for sure," she said. "And that, you know, that's - and they deserve it. And everybody's like, 'Oh, my God. this is the worst. This is the worst.' After, I mean, come on. They are crazy, OK?"
In the recordings, she complains that the news media was not willing to write a positive article about her visit and her efforts to help reunite children with their parents. She says they do not understand the limits of what she can do because reuniting them "needs to go through the process and through the law".
Of the news media, she says: "They will not do the story. 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 are against us because they are liberal media. Yeah, if I go to Fox, they will do the story. I don't want to go to Fox."
The recordings also suggest that the President's view of immigration - and in particular his support for the idea of separating children at the border to deter illegal crossings - influenced the way she saw the issue as well.
In one part of the conversation, according to CNN, Mrs Trump questioned whether the mothers and children who claimed to have been subject to violence in their home countries were really lying to Border Patrol officials.
"A lot of, like, mums and kids they are (taught) how to do it," Mrs Trump said. "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."
She said the families, most of whom come from Central America, could have chosen to stay in Mexico.
"They are (taught) by other people what to say to come over and to, you know, let them go to stay here," she said. "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."