The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One Melania Trump immigration mystery solved. One still to go.

Melania Trump. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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When the New York Post ran nude photos of Melania Trump on its cover in July, the newspaper inadvertently kicked off questions about how the Republican presidential nominee's wife immigrated to the United States. Donald Trump's campaign promised that it would hold a news conference to answer any outstanding questions about how Melania Trump became a citizen.

That news conference didn't happen, but on Wednesday Melania Trump tweeted a letter from an attorney who had reviewed her immigration paperwork that she said offered "100% certainty" that she had immigrated legally.

Not quite.

We walked through some of the immigration questions earlier this month. Why did Trump say she had to return to her birth country of Slovenia to renew her visa? Who sponsored her green card? Was she working under an employer-sponsored visa? The attorney's letter offers answers to those questions, noting that Trump was here on an H-1B work-related visa that had to be renewed annually and that she self-sponsored her green card.

The questions about the former model's status arose when Politico noted that the photos the New York Post ran were taken in New York in 1995, according to the newspaper, and were published in the January 1996 issue of Max magazine, a now-defunct periodical from France. That's several months before then-Melania Knauss obtained a visa to be in the United States, as her attorney notes.

The attorney's counterargument is a simple one. "Because Mrs. Trump did not enter the United States until August 27, 1996," Michael Wildes wrote, "the allegation that she participated in a photo shoot in 1995 is not only untrue, it is impossible." Wildes confirmed that timeline "through an interview with Mrs. Trump."

The photographer who took those photos, Alé de Basse­ville, confirmed by phone that the New York Post's timing was incorrect. "That was a mistake from the Post," he told The Fix. Asked if the photos were taken in 1996, he said, simply, "yeah." The New York Post had called him while he was at a photo shoot on a French beach, he said, and he told them he didn't remember when the photos were taken.

What's more, the issue of the magazine in which the photos allegedly appeared in January 1996 was a year in review issue, according to a copy available for sale at France's version of eBay, making it more unlikely that Trump would have appeared.

That mystery solved, but some remain.

For example, Trump's attorney explains how she acquired her green card.

"Mrs. Trump did not acquire her green card through marriage," Wildes writes, countering a murky statement from a former Trump Organization attorney that implied the opposite. (Update: A reader notes that the former attorney was none other than Wildes himself, a detail I missed.) "Rather, in 2000, Mrs. Trump self-sponsored herself for a green card as a model of 'extraordinary ability,' and on March 19, 2001, she was admitted to the United States as a permanent resident."

"If she obtained her green card through the 'Extraordinary Ability' category what was the basis of her claim?" asks David Leopold, an immigration attorney who once served as president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and who supports Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. "The law requires a showing of sustained national or international acclaim and that her achievements have been recognized in her field. 'Extraordinary ability' is defined as 'a level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."

To meet that qualification, Trump would have had to offer "evidence that the alien has sustained national or international acclaim and that his or her achievements have been recognized in the field of expertise." That can be something like a Nobel Prize, for example. Otherwise, there's a list of things from which Trump would have needed to demonstrate three examples. The list is not insignificant, requiring membership in organizations based on merit, leadership positions at distinguished organizations or publication "in major trade publications or other major media." Which of those boxes Trump checked isn't clear.

Leopold also noted that Trump's description of having to return to Slovenia each year to renew her visa, something that Wildes said was necessitated by her particular sort of visa, doesn't comport with his experience. As he noted, that's more common for a tourist visa.

"I think the way for the Trump campaign to resolve this is to release her immigration file," Leopold said in a phone interview. Donald Trump's emphasis on immigration since the first day of his campaign, Leopold argued, suggests that his wife must hit a higher bar of transparency on the subject.

Recent experience with the campaign suggests that a full revelation is unlikely. In the interim, the analysis from Melania Trump's lawyer does at least answer some questions.