Melania Trump, a Mysterious First Lady, Weathers a Chaotic White House

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A Rocky Start for ‘Be Best’

At first, Mrs. Trump relied on Ms. Wolkoff to help her assume her new role. Aside from overseeing inauguration events, Ms. Wolkoff assisted the first lady in setting up the East Wing, which included making key hires, writing speeches and developing a child-focused platform with a serious mission.

But in February, Ms. Wolkoff left the East Wing, along with other unpaid advisers, as a result of an administration-wide security clearance review. While operatives say her departure had to do with reports that her event planning firm received $26 million for work on the inauguration, she has vehemently denied this, and has said that every cent her firm spent on the inauguration was accounted for.

“It unfortunately brought an abrupt end to the efforts and partnerships we’d developed to improve the well-being of children, which Mrs. Trump genuinely cares about,” Ms. Wolkoff said in an interview. “The end outcome was not what I expected, but this had more to do with other factions of the White House.”

In the months that followed, more ambitious ideas were whittled down to “Be Best,” a name the first lady chose, with the broad goals of encouraging good online behavior and exploring solutions to the opioid crisis. At its rollout, the program was greeted with fanfare in the White House. Attendees were given a pamphlet and cookies decorated by White House chefs.

The president suggested that Mrs. Trump choose a different topic to avoid questions about how the wife of a notorious Twitter bully could lead a campaign to spotlight anti-bullying and other child wellness efforts, and he warned her that she was opening herself to such jeers, people familiar with the conversations said. She rejected his advice, and publicly said she was willing to face the criticism.

Despite a tightly controlled rollout and assurance from her aides ahead of the event, one White House official said, Mrs. Trump was still upset by accusations of plagiarism surrounding the launch of the initiative, and was frustrated by the president not backing her up, in public or in private.

Shortly after the rollout in May, she was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a five-day hospital stay to treat what her aides called a benign kidney condition. She did not appear in public for nearly a month, and since then has not participated in a dedicated “Be Best” event. Instead, Mrs. Trump has mentioned her program during five tightly controlled solo appearances since.

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