It was a bad day for conspiracy theorists: After nearly a month of fevered speculation surrounding her whereabouts, Melania Trump finally appeared in public with Donald on Wednesday, accompanying the president to FEMA headquarters for a briefing on the federal response to Hurricane Maria. It was the first time the first lady has been seen in public since being admitted to the hospital for a "benign kidney condition" over three weeks earlier, and was irrefutable proof that, at the very least, she is still alive and willing to appear publicly with her husband.
"I'd like to sort of maybe say, and pay, some respects to some of the people here today — I have a list," President Trump said on Wendesday with Melania sitting next to him. "We have to start with our great first lady, Melania. Thank you, Melania. She went through a little rough patch, but she's doing great. And uhhh, we're very proud of her. She's done a fantastic job a first lady." The president then turned to his wife and said, "the people love you. The people of our country love you."
Prior to her appearance Wednesday, the last time Melania had been seen in public was May 10th. The circumstances surrounding her prolonged absence, including the White House's refusal to offer any explanation, gave rise to a handful of conspiracy theories about the first lady.
Although her appearance Wednesday firmly debunked the most outlandish of those theories, there are still several unusual things about how Donald and the White House handled Melania's absence.
For instance, the White House said the first lady was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an embolization procedure to treat a "benign kidney condition." Physicians say that this is a minor procedure that usually only requires patients to spend a day, maximum, in the hospital recovering. Melania, however, remained in the hospital for six days. After the first lady returned to the White House, Donald welcomed her home with a tweet in which he misspelled her name.
While speaking to reporters days later, the president pointed to a nearby window in the White House and claimed Melania was "looking at us" from it. According to pool reports, though, the reporters present glanced at the window and saw no sign of the first lady.
Finally, there was the tweet that appeared May 30th on the official @FLOTUS Twitter account. Ostensibly sent by Melania, the message said that although "the media is working overtime" speculating on her whereabouts, the first lady was in fact "feeling great, & working hard on behalf of children & the American people!" As many people noted at the time, the linguistics of the tweet bore several striking similarities to the president's own tweets, leading many to doubt that she had actually written it.
Trump addressed the many swirling rumors in a tweet Wednesday, bashing the "Fake News Media" for its reporting on the first lady.
"The Fake News Media has been so unfair, and vicious, to my wife and our great First Lady, Melania," Trump tweeted. "During her recovery from surgery they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse. All Fake, she is doing really well!"
It's worth noting that despite her appearance on Wednesday, Melania still isn't planning on going with Donald to the G7 summit later this year, her spokeswoman told CNN. She'll also sit out the United States-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 12th, which the president is also attending.
Conspiracy theories aside, there's one very simple explanation for Melania's sparseness over the last several weeks that's worth considering: Perhaps the first lady just doesn't like press attention, and took steps to avoid it for a few weeks. In light of her return to the public eye on Wednesday, it's as good an explanation as any other.