In a statement, Wolkoff said she fulfilled the agreement and that its confidentiality provisions ended when the White House terminated it. “The President and First Lady’s use of the US Department of Justice to silence me is a violation of my First Amendment Rights and a blatant abuse of the government to pursue their own personal interests and goals,” Winston Wolkoff said, adding, “I will not be deterred by these bullying tactics.”
Winston Wolkoff, 50, had a 15-year friendship with Melania Trump before she was ousted in 2018 as an unpaid senior adviser to the first lady in a scandal involving President Trump’s $107 million inauguration. Winston Wolkoff has said she felt “betrayed” when news accounts focused on $26 million paid to her event-planning firm by the inauguration. Most of the money went to pay for events, and she personally retained $484,126, The Washington Post has reported.
In the book, Winston Wolkoff described what she viewed as extensive mismanagement and opaque accounting for the inauguration, after which she cooperated with law enforcement investigators.
But the former right-hand events planner to Vogue editor Anna Wintour has created a larger media storm this month by playing excerpts of phone conversations that she began secretly recording with the first lady in February 2018.
Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, has lambasted Winston Wolkoff for the recordings.
“Secretly taping the first lady and willfully breaking an NDA to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance,” Grisham said in an Oct. 2 statement to CNN. “The timing of this continues to be suspect — as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism.”
The lawsuit is likely to draw renewed attention to the tapes, which capture Melania Trump venting in profane language about her frustrations with critical media coverage, expectations about her role in planning White House Christmas decorations and defending the administration’s separation of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” Trump said in one portion played in interviews with Winston Wolkoff by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
On another recording, the first lady refers to porn star Stormy Daniels as “the porn hooker.” Porn actresses took to Twitter and accused her of shaming sex workers. The recording played on “Mea Culpa,” a podcast hosted by Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, who went to jail for lying to investigators about paying hush money to Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump before he became president. President Trump has denied the affair.
According to the lawsuit, Winston Wolkoff served as an adviser to the first lady from January to August 21, 2017, helping Melania Trump assemble her staff, remodel the East Wing and communicate with the media. Winston Wolkoff then entered a formal “Gratuitous services Agreement” that included, among other things, the handling of “nonpublic, privileged and/or confidential information,” the suit asserts.
Serving as a volunteer policy and media adviser, Winston Wolkoff agreed that she was “specifically prohibited from publishing, reproducing or otherwise divulging any such information to any unauthorized person or entity in whole or in part,” the Justice Department said in court filings.
The agreement also bound Winston Wolkoff to not disclose her work with the first lady’s office to anyone without written authorization from Melania Trump, her chief of staff or the White House Counsel’s Office, the suit says.
The suit alleges that the nondisclosure terms have no termination date. It also claims that the book’s account of personnel decisions, Melania Trump’s “Be Best” initiative, and conversations with the president “fall squarely” within the terms.
A first lady is not a government employee. But the Justice Department said the federal court in Washington has jurisdiction given the “national nature of the interests and operations related to the [first lady]” and because the contract concerned services in Washington memorialized on official White House stationery.
Attorneys who have represented government whistleblowers and news media called the suit an abuse of the Justice Department’s resources to punish a presidential critic, saying the agreement to restrict information other than classified data is unenforceable.
“The courts since the late ’70s have repeatedly stated the government has no legitimate interest in infringing upon the First Amendment rights of former employees to disseminate unclassified information,” attorney Bradley P. Moss said. “To succeed in this lawsuit, the government would likely need to unravel that precedent in some form.”
Jada Yuan contributed to this report.