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The Melania and Donald You Don't See, According to Ex-Aide: 'I Miss Them and I Hope I Never See Them Again'

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What Stephanie Grisham will not do — now that she has decided to tell her story — is debate anyone who says she got it wrong. There's plenty the former Trump spokeswoman will admit, however: how she twisted the truth while working as a public official, how the power got to her, what she regrets.

She also has plenty to say about what she saw behind closed doors in the four-plus years she spent beside either former President Donald Trump or former First Lady Melania Trump (or both).

I'll Take Your Questions Now, Grisham's new memoir, "is part chronicle of a chaotic administration, part therapy session, and part personal reckoning," she writes.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham

Getty

As with other Trump staffer tell-alls before her — many of them dismissed as fictitious by the family, sometimes via the kinds of statements Grisham, 45, herself used to send to reporters — her book includes plenty of headline-grabbing anecdotes and scenes. Mrs. Trump, obsessed with photos. President Trump, fixated on appearance. (At one point he asked Grisham, she writes, "Are your teeth real?")

Grisham, too, has plenty of firsthand memories from which to pull: She was the first lady's spokeswoman from 2017 until the administration's last days, eventually promoted to chief of staff. For a time, she was also the president's press secretary and infamously declined to hold a single on-camera briefing.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham

Getty

In I'll Take Your Questions Now, Grisham tells her version of how the first lady came to wear that "I Really Don't Care" jacket (and she writes of the explanation that she says the Trumps later concocted for it).

Grisham also writes of bumbling COVID-19 prep meetings and internecine fights between aides and, without naming him, of a White House co-worker she dated who allegedly became abusive. The ex, Max Miller, who is now running for Congress, has sued Grisham and adamantly denied her account.

"I'm not going to go tit-for-tat with everything that people are going to say I misremembered or was wrong about," Grisham tells PEOPLE. "And I write in the beginning of the book that these are my memories to the best of my recollection. It's because I never planned to write a book, I don't have notes and journals and wasn't being sneaky."

Perhaps what Grisham knows best is exactly the kind of response her book would inspire from those around the Trumps. After all, she used to be one of those insiders.

"They don't like this message so they're trying to discredit the messenger," Grisham says. "And I guarantee that Trumpworld right now is reaching out to people to try to say, 'This didn't happen,' say, '[That] didn't happen.' "

Indeed, another former White House aide still in the Trumps' orbit told PEOPLE that Grisham's pivot into book-writing was "sad."

"That's okay," Grisham continues. "This book isn't for Trumpworld. This book is for the public to read and they can believe, look and decide for themselves if I've been honest."

Now back home in Kansas, where she describes "deprogramming" after resigning in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Grisham says she feels politically "kind of lost."

While she is "proud of some of the policies that the Trump administration had, absolutely," she describes coming to grips with all that that entailed. "I'm still tired and gaining perspective on everything," she says.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham

Getty

In Grisham's view, only the audience can decide what to make of her and of the Trumps as she sees them.

"I was their adviser, their underling, their annoying nag, their gossip buddy, sometimes even their friend," she writes in I'll Take Your Questions Now — "or so I told myself," she adds.

"I liked them and I disliked them," she writes, "and I miss them and I hope I never see them again."

In a nearly hour-long interview with PEOPLE, Grisham looked back at her time in the East and West Wings, addressed her friends-turned-critics and shared some of what the Trumps are like when there's no one else around.

PEOPLE: What do you make of Melania Trump's lack of interest in being a public figure who still maintains a focus on her public image?

Grisham: I think that her modeling career was something she cherished and valued. … And this is not even a criticism of her, but I watched her go through every single photo that the White House photographers ever took of her and approve them one by one by one. I can't tell you how many times we sent stacks of pictures up to the residence and she would go through all of them.

So what she looked like was a real obsession to her, and I think that comes from her modeling career. And when you're a model, by and large, you don't speak. You're just a private person. You just get your photograph taken and then you go home.

Describe the Melania we don't see.

She is a really devoted mom. And she spent a lot of time with her son and with her parents. That was one of my favorite things about her was how close she was to her parents. And I have to give her credit. I think going forward for the rest of my life, I will only ever implicitly trust my family and I think that's where she is too. She's been surrounded by these Trump characters and family for a long time. I think it's a survival thing maybe.

She's kind, which I think is so funny for me to say, when you consider the statements she's put out about me. But when you are in her presence, she'll offer you coffee. She'll offer you water. "Are you comfortable? What can I get you?"

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump return to the White House on May 27, 2020 in Washington, DC
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump return to the White House on May 27, 2020 in Washington, DC

Win McNamee/Getty From left: Donald and Melania Trump returning to the White House in May 2020

In your book, you write about her as being someone who could be funny and also someone with keen observational skills.

She does have a really good sense of humor … But one thing I would notice towards the end is that there were people who I really disliked or she really disliked and we would talk about. I'll use Mark Meadows as an example.

She didn't seem to like him either, but the minute he was in the room, he got the same kind of attention that I would. So, "How are you, Mark?" She was a master at being nice to people that I knew for a fact she didn't like. She's very, very good at that. But she could be really funny and really kind when she wanted to be.

And if you don't go along with everything she wants, then ... She's not mean, like her husband, but she's stubborn like him.

So in private, Melania was more open than she is publicly?

[In private] she'll speak really openly and get very animated and she gets exasperated a lot, which I love like, "Oh please, are you kidding me?" That was one of her common phrases. She's definitely a lot more open. And that's the thing, when she would get around the public, [she was] quiet, looked good, always had her good side showing. Sometimes I could see her physically posing a little bit and I think it was just habit.

You write in the book about how she could persuade Donald against doing things. What's an example of that?

The most common one would be when he would want to put things out on Twitter or he would be dictating statements to me and she would jump in and try to help soften them a bit. They talked on the phone all day long. He called her all the time, which I found to be really cute.

Or if she saw something on the news, she would call him and say, "This is on the news. I don't like it. You shouldn't be doing this." He did not always listen. Or sometimes he would listen and then 10 minutes later, he would tweet it anyway. But sometimes he did listen. I think of anybody in the whole White House, he listened to her the most, which makes sense.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak with reporters as he walks to board Marine One
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak with reporters as he walks to board Marine One

Alex Brandon/AP/Shutterstock From left: Donald and Melania Trump upon leaving the White House a final time in January 2021

Why do you think Melania has that pull on him?

I think they have a real partnership, and she really did have good instincts about people who maybe weren't in it for the right reasons, or the people who could be trusted and who couldn't, or about when [Donald] should stay quiet on a subject or when he should speak up more.

Do you think Melania and Donald were aligned on social and political issues?

I think it's a mixed bag. With immigration, she was aligned with him in terms of thinking it should be done legally and thinking there are a lot of bad actors trying to come into our country. She definitely did not like the [child separation policy]. I know she tried to talk him out of it and that was the one he wouldn't budge on.

Social issues, I think, she was a little bit more liberal than he would be. I think secretly, he was though, too. He just — as the Republican, conservative president — had to stay strong. But I think for the most part, they seemed aligned.

I'm still surprised that she supported the birtherism stuff. And then at the end, which I talk about in the book, she seemed to support the election fraud in some way ... She's tough to crack.

What about Donald's well-documented temper? Is that something you witnessed?

I never saw him lose his temper with Mrs. Trump. Then when I got to the West Wing, I saw him do it to others and it was really jarring. I remember being struck by how people just took it — a national security adviser or a secretary of state or a cabinet member ... I never saw anyone push back.

The first time he did it to me was on Air Force One and it was so fast. Picture a DJ board where you can just push the volume all the way up. It's that swift, how loud he gets.

The formula me and my colleagues took was: we would take it, and then just stay out of his line of sight for the next day or two. And then sadly, we would kind of hope he would turn his eye on someone else. I think that that's where some of the real backstabbing, dog-eat-dog culture came from. You were so desperate not to be on his bad side, that you would let anybody else be on his bad side.

Stephanie Grisham
Stephanie Grisham

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock Stephanie Grisham

Do you feel like you were sort of lulled into a faux sense of friendship with the Trumps?

Well yeah, because they are so good at it. You would walk into the Oval and he was in a good mood, he would be like, "Stephanie, there she is. Beautiful Stephanie." And not in a creepy way, but just like, "You look great today. How are you, honey? Are you doing good?" He was really nice and he would crack jokes and I never had that.

Other bosses just didn't do that kind of thing. Mrs. Trump, she always remembered my birthday, she always asked me about my personal life. We talked about my personal life all the time and other bosses never did that. And so, I guess it lulled me into a false sense of security.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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