By Kate Bennett, CNN
Published Dec 30, 2021 2:54:42 PM
(CNN) — After months of relative public silence, former first lady Melania Trump before Christmas emerged from private life to announce a new project: A piece of artwork, a watercolor closeup of her eyes, in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) was now available for purchase.
It was an unusual move for any former first lady, to delve into the world of blockchain sales, but Trump has never been a predictable nor typical political spouse.
“I am proud to announce my new NFT endeavor, which embodies my passion for the arts, and will support my ongoing commitment to children through my Be Best initiative,” said Trump in a statement released via her social media platforms and on her website. Trump has since posted on her Twitter account 17 times about the endeavor.
Her NFT, entitled “Melania’s Vision,” and drawn by French artist Marc-Antoine Coulon, is available through December 31 through the cryptocurrency Solana, at a cost of approximately $175 — depending on the market — and has an authenticated identity via blockchain. The sales could be incredibly lucrative for Trump, one of several celebrities — including Paris Hilton, Shawn Mendes, Tom Brady, Kate Moss and Grimes — who have recently dipped into the NFT market and emerged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars richer. Fans are often enticed by the opportunity to own a unique digital piece of memorabilia or original artwork.
Trump’s NFT also comes with an audio clip of her saying: “My vision is: Look forward with inspiration, strength and courage.”
“Through this new technology-based initiative, we will provide children computer science skills, including programming and software development, to thrive after they age out of the foster care community,” added Trump in Thursday’s statement, noting not every dollar of profit is intended solely for her, yet neglecting to clarify how, when and to what extent the charitable component will be a part of the process.
Coulon, the artist, had perhaps been filled in on details the public has not, writing on his Instagram page: “The project has been clearly defined and its objectives and the charities involved are very much in line with the spirit in which the project was motivated.” A spokesperson for Coulon did not return a request for comment.
Trump’s statement said “a portion of the proceeds” will go to children aging out of the foster care system, but no specifics on what that portion is were provided. Several attempts by CNN to reach Trump’s spokesperson for clarity on these components of the NFT went unanswered.
“I’m confused by it. It’s very random as a project and seems tone deaf to release online artwork of yourself for $150,” said a former White House official who worked with Melania Trump on several of her East Wing initiatives, and one of several acquaintances or former Trump staff who spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity to maintain personal relationships. “The timing seems odd too — Covid and natural disasters are impacting the country, and many people are struggling financially.”
Trump, who embraces a wealthy lifestyle, has not indicated publicly, or privately to those who spoke to CNN, that she is in any financial need. “With Melania’s personal wealth, I certainly hope the ‘portion of proceeds’ going to help kids is significant,” said another person who worked with her for several years.
When she left Washington in January, Trump re-embraced her fondness for a low-profile life, retreating to Palm Beach, where she now resides full-time at Mar-a-Lago. For several months after her departure from the White House, Trump did not appear publicly, nor did she establish a course of directives for her Be Best initiative.
Since last spring, she has tweeted sporadically, mostly images and memories from her time as first lady; in September she tweeted just twice, and nothing in October.
However, in November, on the heels of her first public remarks at an event put on by the Log Cabin Republicans — held downstairs from her private quarters at Mar-a-Lago in the club’s ballroom — Trump seemed to get a fresh yen for the spotlight.
“It was like all of the sudden she remembered she liked when people were noticing her,” said another Trump acquaintance.
At the event, Trump was honored with the group’s Spirit of Lincoln Award and made brief acceptance remarks at a black-tie dinner attended by invited guests and her husband, former President Donald Trump.
Since then, the former first lady has ramped up her social media output, tweeting regularly on topics both national (a tribute to the anniversary of Pearl Harbor), and local (sending prayers to those in Kentucky following the deadly tornadoes). She tweeted photographs of a Thanksgiving visit to a Florida children’s foster care center, and this month, photos of herself, dressed in nautical stripes, on a Coast Guard vessel wishing a special holiday message to service members.
Then came the announcement of the NFT, and a barrage of retweets of subsequent press stories about her new moneymaking venture.
“Why now?” asks the acquaintance, who suggests the lure of attention may be tied to Trump’s desire to re-establish her brand. “To some degree she thinks she’s an influencer. This is a way to stay relevant. If you think his fans love President Trump, they worship Melania. There is nothing she can do or say that they won’t support.”
More NFTs are coming
A second NFT piece will likely be on offer next month, a preview of which is scheduled for January 4, with a live date of January 11, according to information on Trump’s website, MelaniaTrump.com. The website describes part of the impetus for releasing the first NFT was her “personal journey” from Slovenia to the White House.
“The beauty and hardships of individuals, majestic landscapes and profound architecture have entered her lens and remain in her heart,” says the description.
It is unclear who is advising Trump on her decision to enter the NFT market, but the former White House official suggests this is Trump’s way of “trying to look busy,” something the former first lady has not particularly portrayed to the public since leaving the White House.
“This is not exactly using her platform for larger global or domestic impact,” this person said. “This is ostensibly a quick moneymaker. It’s a classic Trump move, using their brand and their supporters to cash in.”
Typically, most modern first ladies establish foundations or organizations — generally not-for-profit — that further the initiatives they began during their White House tenures.
For Laura Bush, that has come partly in the form of continuing her work helping Afghan women, as well as supporting America’s libraries and educational reading programs. Michelle Obama has several official endeavors that push her work supporting girls and education, college attendance and voting rights.
Trump has said she is continuing her Be Best cause, but there has been no official output of events or dedicated objectives.
Donald Trump’s crypto flip-flop
As first lady, Trump prided herself on not always aligning her East Wing messaging with that of the West Wing, which could at times publicly place her views in stark opposition to those of the President. Her former spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN several times that the former first lady did what she chose to do when she chose to do it and acted “independently” of her husband.
Trump’s delving into the world of NFT appears another example of her inattention to the former President’s public comments, flying in the face of his recent takes on cryptocurrency, which he publicly bashed during two separate interviews with Fox Business.
Cryptocurrency, Donald Trump said in June, is a “scam against the dollar,” and he questioned the veracity of the rising trend.
“The currency of this world should be the dollar,” said Trump, adding, “I think they should regulate them very, very high.”
In August he doubled down on that dislike, saying cryptocurrencies are “potentially a disaster waiting to happen,” and that he has “not been a big fan.”
However, his wife’s new website, from which people may click their way to a cyber-purchase of her water-colored eyeballs, includes an entire page dedicated to explaining the complex world of NFTs, blockchain and cryptocurrency. It even includes a link to a suggested “digital wallet” platform from which customers can use Solana cryptocurrency to purchase Trump’s limited release NFT.
A day after “Melania’s Vision” was revealed, Donald Trump seemed to have fresh clarity on crypto.
“Congratulations to my wife, Melania,” he said via a statement released to the public from his office. “The launch of Melania’s new NFT business epitomizes our American Spirit of ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship. By leveraging blockchain technology, MelaniaTrump.com will provide Melania’s fans, connoisseurs of the arts, and the public at large the ability to collect rare and limited edition pieces while benefiting children in the foster care community.”
CNN asked Trump’s spokeswoman if the statement meant Trump has changed his mind about viewing cryptocurrency as a “scam” now that his wife is involved with NFTs, but did not receive a response.
This story was first published on CNN.com, “Melania Trump steps back into the public eye.”