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Tapes reveal Melania Trump appearing to downplay child separation policy, bemoaning Christmas decorations

First lady Melania Trump speaks on the phone with children as they track Santa Claus with the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, on Christmas Eve in the State Dinning Room of the White House. (Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post)

In the summer of 2018, a week after her trip to the Mexican border where immigration officials were separating migrant children from their families, first lady Melania Trump called a close friend to complain about how the press covered the event — as well to air her frustrations with having to plan White House Christmas decorations.

“Who gives a f--- about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” Trump said to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former confidante and East Wing adviser, who secretly recorded the conversation after she left the White House. “I say that I’m working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, ‘Oh, what about the children that they were separated?’ Give me a f------ break.”

Winston Wolkoff publicly released a portion of her recordings for the first time Thursday night when they aired on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” The conversation, which was documented in Winston Wolkoff’s recently released book “Melania and Me,” spread quickly on Twitter hours before news broke that the first lady and President Trump had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Critics went after the first lady for seemingly downplaying the conditions for migrant children separated from their parents under a Trump administration policy, as well as for lamenting her need to decorate for Christmas — a holiday the president has accused Democrats of trying to destroy.

Trump brings up the war on Christmas — in July

In a statement to CNN, the first lady’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, argued that the recordings are part of Winston Wolkoff’s attempt to boost her book’s sales.

“Secretly taping the First Lady and willfully breaking an NDA to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance,” Grisham said. “The timing of this continues to be suspect — as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism.”

Winston Wolkoff taped about a year’s worth of conversations with the first lady beginning in February 2018 after she was terminated from her position as an unpaid adviser. Tax filings showed that Winston Wolkoff’s company received $26 million from the presidential inauguration committee.

Last month, Winston Wolkoff told The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan that the first lady used private email accounts, iMessage, and Signal, an encrypted messaging app, while at the White House. Critics said the finding was hypocritical considering the president’s attacks on Hillary Clinton, who used a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Melania Trump used private email accounts while in the White House, says former colleague and friend

At one point in the tapes aired on CNN, Trump suggests that the migrant children are treated well at the border and have a higher quality of life than they did in their home countries.

“The kids, they say, ‘Wow I will have my own bed? I will sleep on the bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes?’ It’s so sad to hear it, but they didn’t have that in their own countries, they sleep on the floor,” she said. “They are taken care of nicely there. But you know, yeah, they are not with parents, it’s sad. But when they come here alone or with coyotes or illegally, you know, you need to do something.”

Trump argued that families are trained to play sympathetic to get asylum. “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,’ ” Trump said. “So they are allowed to stay here.”

“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,” the first lady added.

The first lady also seemed exasperated over the negative press she received over her visit to the border.

“They will not do the story. We put it out,” Trump said, referring to the media. “They are against us because they’re liberal media. Yeah, if I go to Fox, they will do the story. I don’t want to go to Fox."

She also complained about the press and the public calling on her to do more about the family separation policy. “They say I’m complicit. I’m the same like him, I support him,” the first lady said, referring to President Trump. “I don’t say enough I don’t do enough where I am.”

At one point, Melania Trump said that former first lady Michelle Obama never visited the border and seemed irritated that her duty to handle Christmas decorations at the White House was impeding her from doing more.

“I’m working my ass off on the Christmas stuff,” Trump said. “I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn’t have a chance — needs to go through the process and through the law.”

First lady Melania Trump wore a jacket that caused a stir on social media as she boarded a plane to Texas on June 21 for a border visit. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump also admitted to wearing the infamous jacket from Zara that read, “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” on the back to get attention from the press. She mocked the public’s reaction to the jacket, disproving theories that she was sending a message to the media, or even to the president.

“I’m driving liberals crazy, that’s for sure,” Trump said. “They deserve it.”

Jada Yuan contributed to this report.