OPED: Melania Trump visa questions need to be answered

Tribune News Service

Normally I'm no fan of the silly-season stuff, and you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Donald and Melania Trump arrive at the celebration for Time magazine's annual '100 Most Influential People' issue in New York City.

I'd rather know what a political candidate thinks about the federal debt than whether his wife is a looker. I'd rather have some understanding of what another candidate will do to lower the unemployment rate than whether her husband is still playing around on the side. These are the somewhat boring, yet nonetheless crucial issues that face us in an election year.

Still, the silly stuff is amusing, and if you're having a particularly long and stressful day, it's enjoyable to plunge into the sticky, sordid little pool of sound bites and non-news.

For example, that thing about Donald Trump yelling at a baby was good for a chuckle. We all know he was joking, but some of us will pretend he eats children for breakfast because it advances our partisan narrative.

And that whole dust-up when Hillary Clinton said, "What difference does it make?" in front of the Bengazi panel last year? We all knew she wasn't a callous witch who brushed off the deaths of four Americans as if they were bits of dandruff on her pantsuit lapel. But it makes for great talking points on the cable news shows, so we run with it.

Those silly-season things, along with the fabricated scandal of a reporter who was manhandled by a Trump operative and the attacks on Megyn Kelly (who can defend herself quite well), are an insult to the voter's intelligence. Unfortunately, the voters have shown that they deserve to be insulted, particularly this year, with their "Entertainment Tonight" tastes. It's a bit ironic to have so many people complaining about the way the media focus on the irrelevancies when these are exactly the things that drive the ratings. Chicken/egg? Perhaps, but I think it's more egg (public)/chicken (media, which want public to pay attention).

Of course, one man's "silly" is another's "important," and depending upon whom you are supporting in the presidential election, that could all be relative. And speaking of relative, or relatives, I normally don't like to talk about them when it comes to politics. That's because they, generally, do not choose to be thrust into the public spotlight when their husband, wife, mother, daughter, sibling or former step-cousin, once removed, decides to throw his or her hat in the ring.

With Clinton, that's, of course, a different story, because her most visible relative was himself a politician who did the sort of thing men often do whenever they have the opportunity, but who rarely get that opportunity in the Oval Office.

Now, up until a short while ago, I strongly believed that Trump's better half fell into that general category of "off-limits," because Melania never thrust herself into the public spotlight. OK, she did, but that spotlight had less to do with elections and more to do with something that rhymes with elections. Something Hillary's husband could appreciate.

I was someone who basically said the racy photos Melania had posed for over two decades ago were a personal matter, between her and several million subscribers to the racy gentleman's magazine in which they appeared. But seriously, it had nothing to do with Trump's candidacy.

Now, however, there is a suggestion that Melania shot those photos when she was working as a model in the United States but before she actually had permission to work in the United States. It's still only speculation at this point, because her original visa documents haven't been made available to the public, but Melania's description of having to return to her native Slovenia "every few months" to get her "papers stamped" is not consistent with what I know to be the visa procedures for a professional model.

Usually, models are given permission to work under what is known as an H-1B visa, which is good for up to three years at a time. This would have obviated the need to travel back and forth to Slovenia every few months to "stay legal," as Melania has been quoted as saying.

The most plausible explanation for what Melania did appears to be coming in and out of the country — legally, mind you — on a tourist visa. There are tourist visas for pleasure, and tourist visas for business, but neither of those visas allow you to work. Yes, there are tiny exceptions, but you don't want to hear about them because (1) your eyes will glaze over and (2) none of them applies to sexy Slovenian models.

Melania was never, it appears, illegally present in the country. She did not slip across any border that will be sealed if her husband gets to build his wall. She walked in, head held high. But if she came in with the intention of working, and had only that tourist visa, she could be charged with visa fraud. And that is a big no-no if your husband is accusing lots of other people of being murderers, rapists and terrorists.

Her ex-agent swears that he obtained an H1-B for Melania before she ever modeled for money, and that she was just "confused" when she made those statements about going in and out of the country to "stay legal."

But until we see the paperwork, which is as readily available as Trump's tax returns, there will be a cloud over Melania Trump.

So that is why this story is not part of the "silly season." Donald Trump's unfortunate commentaries about illegal aliens made this story a relevant one, and it unfortunately dragged his wife into a situation that will make her homage to Michelle Obama at the Republican National Convention seem tame in comparison.

Moral of the story: Not everything that seems silly really is. Now, can we talk about Hillary's horrendous taste in pantsuits?

— Christine Flowers is a lawyer and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.