Melania Trump Vs Daily Mail. Is It Legal To Monetise Her Role As First Lady?

Photo: Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock.
On Monday, first lady Melania Trump re-filed a $150 million defamation lawsuit against the Daily Mail's parent company because the website reported rumours that she used to work as a high-end escort. It's possible that the re-filing would have largely been ignored, if not for the fact the lawsuit seems to imply Melania was planning or expecting to monetise her role as FLOTUS.

The suit reads,
"[The] plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model, brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world." The lawyers also wrote in the brief that products in her brand would include things like "apparel, accessories, shoes, jewellery, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance." The suit goes on to say that the Mail story "impugned her fitness to perform her duties as first lady of the United States" and also "her duties in business." Since before President Trump took office, there have been questions about the ethical implications of having a person with considerable business interests also wield such power in the Oval Office. Trump sort-of found a way around that, even if many ethics experts didn't believe that his efforts to separate himself from the Trump Organisation went far enough. But what about the first lady? This is an unelected, unpaid position. Is she held to the same ethical standards as the president? Hell, is trying to profit from the role even legal? It seems that, while this would present even more ethical concerns for the first family, it would be legal for Melania to have a side job and earn an income during her time as first lady. After all, she wouldn't be the first FLOTUS to work while her husband is in office. According to an article published in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation's website, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt did earn money during her husband's presidency. "Writing to a friend at the end of 1933, FDR’s first year in the White House, she trumpeted, "I’ve done it! I earned as much as Franklin,'" the article reads. It continues, "She made as much as $1,400 a lecture (almost $25,000 in 2016), $1,000 a month for her column, and thousands more for her books and magazine articles." Roosevelt wasn't the only first lady to earn her own money. Bess Truman, wife of former president Harry S. Truman, worked as her husband's salaried Senate aide during his presidency. The central ethical questions surrounding the language in the lawsuit seem to hinge on whether Melania is trying to profit from being the first lady. After all, wanting to earn money during her husband's time in office is very different from profiting because of the role she holds. However, her attorney Charles Harder told The Guardian that the wording in the filing was largely misunderstood. "The First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so. It is not a possibility. Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted," he said.

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