Melania Trump was paid for 10 modelling jobs in the United States that occurred before she had legal permission to work in the country, according to documents from 20 years ago provided to The Associated Press.
The details of Trump's early paid modelling work in the U.S. emerged in the final days of a bitter presidential campaign in which her husband, Donald Trump, has taken a hard line on immigration laws and those who violate them. Trump has proposed broader use of the government's E-verify system allowing employers to check whether job applicants are authorized to work.
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Melania Trump, who received a green card in March 2001 and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, has always maintained that she arrived in the country legally and never violated the terms of her immigration status.
The wife of the Republican presidential nominee has said through an attorney that she first came to the U.S. from Slovenia on Aug. 27, 1996, on what's known as a B1/B2 visitor visa and obtained an H-1B work visa on Oct. 18, 1996.
The documents obtained by the AP show she was compensated for the modelling jobs that she worked between Sept. 10 and Oct. 15 of that year, altogether worth $20,056. During this time, her visa allowed her to be in the U.S. and look for work, but not perform paid work. The documents consist of detailed accounting ledgers, her contract and related papers.
It is highly unlikely the discovery will affect the citizenship status of Melania Trump. The government can seek to revoke the U.S. citizenship of immigrants after the fact in cases when it determines a person willfully misrepresented or concealed facts relevant to naturalization. But it effectively does this in only the most egregious cases, such as instances involving terrorism or war crimes.
'I wanted to be an American'
The disclosures about the payments come as Trump takes on a more substantial role advocating for her husband's candidacy. She made her first speech in months Thursday, in which she spoke of her time working as a model in Europe and her decision to come to the U.S.
"As a young entrepreneur, I wanted to follow my dream to a place where freedom and opportunity were in abundance. So of course, I came here," she said. "Living and working in America was a true blessing, but I wanted something more. I wanted to be an American."
The documents obtained by the AP included ledgers, other accounting documents and a management agreement signed by Trump from Metropolitan International Management that covered parts of 1996 and 1997. The AP obtained the files this week after seeking copies since August from employees of the now-defunct modelling firm, after she made comments earlier this summer that appeared inconsistent with U.S. immigration rules.
A New York immigration lawyer whom Trump asked to review her immigration documents, Michael J. Wildes, reviewed some of the ledgers at AP's request. Wildes said in a brief statement that "these documents, which have not been verified, do not reflect our records including corresponding passport stamps."
He did not elaborate or answer additional questions asking for clarification. Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks also did not answer additional written questions from the AP.
7 weeks of work
During the seven-week period between Melania Trump's arrival in the U.S. and her work visa, the ledgers list modelling work for clients that included Fitness magazine and Bergdorf Goodman department store. The management agreement, which said it was not an employment agreement, included a handwritten date of Aug. 27, 1996. The top of the document said it was "made and entered into as of this 4th day of September 1996."
Many of the documents were part of a legal dispute related to the dissolution of the firm in the late 1990s and found recently in storage. The accounting ledgers for the firm's models were listed on hundreds of pages of continuously fed paper that appeared yellowed with age. They were authenticated by a former employee who worked at the firm at the time. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity because this person feared retaliation from Trump's presidential campaign.
A former partner, Paolo Zampolli, who previously told the AP that he recruited Melania Trump to come to the U.S. as a model, confirmed that the contract language was used by his firm and his signature appeared on the document. Trump's signature on the contract resembled her signature on her marriage license recorded in 2005.
Asked about the two dates on the document, Zampolli said he usually vacationed in Europe each August and probably arranged for the contract to be formally executed when he returned to New York after Labour Day, even though Trump had signed it eight days earlier.
Zampolli said the ledgers for Trump were consistent with printouts used by his firm at the time, but he would not vouch for them because he said money matters were handled by the company's chief financial officer, who has since died. Zampolli said he did not recall Trump working without legal permission.
Some ledgers were first made available to True.Ink, an online lifestyle publication, then independently obtained and verified by the AP.