The US Department of Justice (DOJ) accused Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, author of a tell-all book about first lady Melania Trump, of breaking their nondisclosure agreement and asked a court to set aside profits from the book in a government trust.
In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Washington, DOJ lawyers said Wolkoff, a former aide who fell out with the first lady, failed to submit to the government for review a draft of her book, “Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady,” which offers an unflattering portrayal of President Donald Trump’s wife.
While Wolkoff, who worked on an unpaid basis for Melania during 2017-2018, was not a federal employee, the suit says she nevertheless signed a federally enforceable “contract” called a gratuitous services agreement.
In that agreement, she was “specifically prohibited from publishing, reproducing or otherwise divulging any such information to any unauthorised person or entity in whole or in part.”
She also was forbidden from profiting from what she learned in the White House, without the approval of White House lawyers, the suit said.
‘Right of free expression’
Wolkoff, in a statement issued late on Tuesday, said she had fulfilled all the terms of her agreement with Melania Trump and the confidentiality provisions ended “when the White House terminated the agreement.”
“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,” she said.
She said she had exercised her right of free expression with the publication of her book and “I will not be deterred by these bullying tactics.”
“Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady,” purported to lift the veil off the 50-year-old ex-model of Slovenian origin who became the third wife of the real estate mogul turned president.
It portrays a much more active and decisive Melania than generally understood, and depicted her as a bitter rival of Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, labelling her and her husband Jared Kushner as “snakes.”
All profit to Treasury Department
The government asked that any profits Wolkoff might realise from the book and subsequent movie deal or documentary be set aside into a “constructive trust,” with the monies ultimately going to the Treasury Department.
Published six weeks ago, the book was for a time on the New York Times bestseller list.
“The United States seeks to hold Ms Wolkoff to her contractual and fiduciary obligations and to ensure that she is not unjustly enriched by her breach of the duties she freely assumed when she served as an adviser to the first lady,” said a copy of the complaint seen by Reuters.
It says Wolkoff and Mrs Trump in August 2017 sealed a “Gratuitous Services Agreement” related to “nonpublic, privileged and/or confidential information” that she might obtain during her service under the agreement.
“This was a contract with the United States and therefore enforceable by the United States,” said DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.
Similar to Bolton case
Wolkoff fell out with the Trumps over a scandal related to millions of dollars that went unaccounted for in the president’s inauguration in January 2017, which she helped organize.
Earlier this year the attorney general of Washington sued Trump’s inaugural committee and the president’s Trump Organization business, alleging the Trump’s profited heavily on the events.
Communications and records from Wolkoff are cited as evidence that contributed to the suit.
The lawsuit says Wolkoff was not free from her obligations to submit the book to Melania Trump and White House lawyers after she stopped working there.
While the DOJ warned Wolkoff and her publisher Simon & Schuster in July of the possible violation of her agreement, it did not take action until after the book was published.
The government action was similar to DOJ attempts to stop publication of a book published in June by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton was accused of divulging national security secrets, a charge he denied. Publication went ahead anyway and a court battle continues over his book, “The Room Where It Happened.”
Wolkoff’s tenure at the White House ended in early 2018, after it was disclosed that her company had received $26 million to help plan Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.