There are people who build things and people who destroy them. Stephanie Grisham is a destroyer, and in her memoir she seems to show no genuine remorse for the destruction that she caused.
Grisham, a female Machiavelli with a penchant for Justin Bieber, whom she quotes at the start of one of the chapters in her book, served as liaison between the West Wing and the East Wing during the tumultuous second half of the Trump presidency. After a stint as White House press secretary and communications director, from July 2019 to April 2020—she never held a news conference in all that time—Grisham became chief of staff to the First Lady of the United States.
She swooped into Melania Trump’s inner circle when I, a close friend and adviser to the First Lady, was in the hospital recovering from back surgery, and she appears to have helped lay the blame for a gross mismanagement of inauguration funds squarely on my back.
In her book, she seems to refer to me as a “wealthy grifter from New York,” conveniently leaving out the fact that I was in charge of planning and running the Met Ball for more than a decade, and that it was Melania and Ivanka who sought me out to help them, not the other way around.
Now she’s trying to distance herself from the family she was willing to do anything for—“In [Donald Trump’s] vocabulary,” she writes, “there was no higher compliment than being ‘tough’ or ‘vicious’ or ‘a killer’”—and ingratiate herself with the world.
How anyone can take a woman seriously who calls the First Lady “my girl” despite having seemingly no relationship with her whatsoever, let alone anything resembling a friendship, or who refers to herself and Sarah Huckabee Sanders as “Thelma and Louises lovin’ life and livin’ the dream, and answered to no one but Mrs. Trump” is beyond me.
A female Machiavelli with a penchant for Justin Bieber.
It is clear to me that she did not comprehend the seriousness of her position, as evidenced by her comments on dictators (“I just found the policy and national security conversation that surrounded them fascinating”) and Putin (“handsome in a ‘power is an aphrodisiac’ sort of way”).
Equally bizarre is how clueless she continues to be about her role in the White House. Grisham mocks Melania’s accent (she tells us several times that the Slovenian-born First Lady pronounced “Don’t reply” as “Don’t replay”) and points to the times she had to write the First Lady’s speeches for her. Did she ever stop to think that this was literally her job? (Grisham mitigates her malice later on, casually dropping in the fact that Melania speaks five languages. From my experience, I can guarantee she does not.)
And her account of the I really don’t care. Do U? jacket snafu is absurd: “After the first lady’s chief of staff got into the van and I was off the phone, she said something like ‘We’re wearing a jacket that says ‘I don’t care’ on it,” Grisham writes. “At the time, I was working on three things at once, and frankly I didn’t think much about it.” Frankly, what was she thinking about?
How anyone can take a woman seriously who refers to herself and Sarah Huckabee Sanders as “Thelma and Louises lovin’ life and livin’ the dream” is beyond me.
Most other publications have already gone into how absurd it is for someone like Grisham to try to redeem herself. I can only speak to the aspects of the book I experienced firsthand, from the tensions between Melania and Ivanka, which Grisham claims are a “conspiracy” that I planted in the First Lady’s mind, to dubious anecdotes that I know to be either lifted from other people’s experiences or just fully false.
As for Melania and Ivanka, the tension was palpable to me, and I was on the receiving end of too many frustrated text messages from Melania to count. (On International Women’s Day, after getting wind that Ivanka wanted to co-host the White House luncheon: “Are you kidding me? Seriously? I’m not cohosting.”)
Grisham gets one thing right. “Don’t forget,” she writes, “that is how a lot of people would rid themselves of perceived enemies inside the Administration, they simply leaked things to the press—true or not—then made sure the president saw the stories.” That’s what happened to me.
When questions about the mismanagement of the funds for Trump’s inauguration, which I planned, began to intensify, with the press and public (myself included) understandably outraged over $107 million being overspent, mismanaged, or possibly siphoned off, blame had to be pinned on someone. Grisham, ever loyal to Trump, must have felt threatened by my presence and close relationship with Melania and used me to send a message that the White House was “severing ties” with the “overspenders.”
Grisham did not comprehend the seriousness of her position, as evidenced by her comments on Putin (“handsome in a ‘power is an aphrodisiac’ sort of way”).
The aftermath was devastating. My relationship with Melania bankrupted me to my core, stripping me of my dignity, my reputation, and, almost, my life.
I didn’t go along with Trump’s false-playbook narrative of how the presidential inauguration’s $107 million was spent. Instead of complying with disconcerting requests to lie on the White House’s behalf, I hired a lawyer and insisted on sticking to the truth, which was that I was a witness to the self-dealing, choreographed abuse of power on behalf of the Trumps, the White House, and the Presidential Inauguration Committee, and their disregard for the truth and the law. The Trump Justice Department sued me over my book about my experiences, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. (The case has since been dropped.)
Grisham waited until the president was out of office to tell her version of events. “The president and maybe even the first lady will pretend they hardly knew me, or they will sue me—or both,” she writes. “I know all of this, because that is what we did to everyone else who decided to tell their truth or who stood up against things they thought were wrong. It is what I did, personally, to many people because it is the Trump formula: when you’re in, you’re in, and when you’re out—you’re denied and then destroyed. It’s something of poetic justice, I guess, that I was once a destroyer myself.”
She still is.
I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House, by Stephanie Grisham, is out now
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is the author of Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady