Melania Trump keeps low profile as allegations fly

Story highlights

  • Melania Trump is in a unique position to defend Trump
  • Other political spouses have stood by their husbands when they were accused of sexual impropriety

Washington (CNN)As Donald Trump faces mounting accusations of sexual misconduct this week, the most important woman in his inner circle, his wife Melania, has been silent.

Experts in crisis management say if there ever was a time for her to speak given her unique role in Trump's life, it would be now, as her husband faces new claims this week of sexual improprieties and groping, which he has denied.
"The first rule of crisis communication when you're in a crisis like this -- allegations of infidelity -- is, the spouse has to be there, standing by their husband or wife," said crisis communications consultant Richard Levick. "Where's his wife? Where are they standing side by side, hand in hand?"
    With less than four weeks until the election, a Trump campaign spokesperson would not comment on whether Melania Trump will appear on her husband's behalf. Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump's daughter with his first wife and someone who had often vouched for her father's relationship with women, returned to the campaign trail on Thursday, though she was not asked about the current controversies embroiling his campaign.
    Melania Trump issued a statement the day after the release of a 2005 tape that showed him bragging about being able to grope women and get away with it, condemning her husband's words but saying she had forgiven him.
    "The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know," she said. "I hope people will accept his apology, as I have."
    But according to Levick, that statement fell short.
    "She doesn't talk about her love of the man, she just talks about 'the man that I know,'" said Levick. "As Americans, we may be willing to forgive, but first we have to see that the spouse forgives."
    The statement was issued before women publicly accused Trump of groping them. Trump has vehemently denied the claims, which CNN has been unable to corroborate.
    Through her lawyers, Melania Trump pushed back against one of the new accusations, leveled by Natasha Stoynoff, a writer for People magazine. But the only part of the story she challenged was the reporter's assertion that she once ran into Melania Trump on the street and exchanged pleasantries.
    "Mrs. Trump did not encounter Ms. Stoynoff on the street, nor have any conversation with her," said a letter from Melania Trump's lawyers to People.
    In July, Melania Trump gave a speech praising her husband that was watched by millions, during the Republican National Convention.
    "He will never, ever, let you down," she said. "He is tough when he has to be, but he is also kind and fair and caring."
    But the speech contained several instances of plagiarism, and her message became buried under the controversy.
    Melania Trump did a few interviews earlier this year, including with CNN and MSNBC. In August, Donald Trump said Melania Trump would soon hold a press conference, in part to clarify the timeline of her immigration history, but so far no such press conference has taken place.

    Defending their husbands

    A number of political spouses have publicly stood by their husbands when they were accused of sexual impropriety, from Silda Spitzer to Huma Abedin to Jenny Sanford to Hillary Clinton. In 1992, with Bill Clinton's primary campaign rocked by allegations of infidelity, Hillary Clinton sat with him for an interview on "60 Minutes" and vouched for him.
    In an appearance that revived her husband's political chances, Hillary Clinton told CBS, "I'm not sitting here, as some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him. And I respect him. And I honor what he's been through and we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him."
    But for Melania Trump, there could also be a downside to speaking now, according to Trump supporter Ben Ferguson.
    "If you do that, you're continuing to feed the beast of a story," said Ferguson, a CNN political commentator. "You're in a tough situation."
    Donald Trump denied that there is any rift between him and his wife after this week's allegations.
    "We're stronger today than we ever were before, which is good," he said Thursday in West Palm Beach.