Melania Trump delivered remarks at a naturalisation ceremony at the National Archives in Washington DC on Friday, a rare – and ironic – public speaking appearance from the former first lady, whose husband is accused of withholding government documents from the very same agency.
Her appearance comes in the middle of a federal criminal case targeting Donald Trump and his allegedly illegal retention of Archives documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, where Ms Trump also lives.
A grand jury indictment charged the former president on more than three dozen criminal counts, including more than 30 violations of the Espionage Act, stemming from allegations that he took sensitive national security documents to his Florida compound after leaving the White House.
He is also charged with making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice. That case is scheduled to go to trial in May 2024.
The case under US Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith is separate from the federal charges he faces in connection with his attempts to reverse his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly attacked the National Archives and baselessly accused the archivists and civil servants of corruption and conspiracies against him following a protracted effort to get him to return documents in his possession.
So why would Ms Trump travel there?
The former first lady, who became a US citizen in 2006, was invited to speak at Friday’s event by Archivist of the United States Colleen Shogan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden to lead the agency earlier this year.
She invited Ms Trump to speak at the event in her capacity as a former first lady, not as a candidate’s spouse.
“Naturalization ceremonies at the National Archives are not political events, and speakers are not invited in a political capacity,” a spokesperson said.
Ms Trump has largely avoided public events after leaving the White House in January 2021, as Mr Biden took office in the wake of the attack on the US Capitol and Mr Trump’s second impeachment.
She attended Mr Trump’s 2024 campaign announcement last November, but she has remained off the campaign trail and has not attended any of his many criminal or civil proceedings.
Last month, she attended the funeral of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President Jimmy Carter. Ms Trump joined current first lady Jill Biden and former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at the service in Georgia.
Speaking in uncharacteristically personal terms on Friday, Ms Trump described the difficulties of navigating immigration law in the US, a process she described as “arduous” and that turned her life “into a labyrinth of organizing paperwork.”
Ms Trump, who was born in Slovenia, applauded the 25 new citizens and discussed the hurdles she faced to become a citizen herself. She did not discuss Mr Trump, who has pledged a violent anti-immigration agenda if elected president next year.
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He has promised to revive a more expansive ban on immigration from majority-Muslim countries that he implemented in his first term. He also would reimpose a ban on entry at the US-Mexico border for people seeking asylum; round up undocumented people living in the US and detain them at camps before they’re expelled; prohibit children born in the US to non-citizen parents from being granted citizenship; and end legal status for thousands of people in the US for humanitarian reasons, among other proposed policies.