The Department of Justice and lawyers acting on behalf of Melania Trump attempted to block an explosive tell-all book from the First Lady’s former close friend and adviser, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.
On July 7 The Daily Beast reported Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who played a key role in planning the 2017 inauguration and is now assisting a federal probe into it, would release Melania & Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. At the time, a person with knowledge of the matter said that First Lady Trump’s one-time confidant had signed a nondisclosure agreement for her duties on President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as well as for her time serving as a senior adviser to Melania Trump at the dawn of the new administration.
The day after The Daily Beast reported this, longtime Donald Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz, also now representing Melania, sent a letter to Wolkoff and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, saying the book was in breach of a confidentiality clause in a Gratuitous Services Agreement between the First Lady and Wolkoff dated Aug. 22, 2017.
“The Services Agreement prohibits Ms. Wolkoff from, among other things, disclosing her work for FLOTUS and the White House Office of the First Lady, as well as any information furnished to [her] by the Government under this Agreement, information about the First Family, or any other information about which [she] may become aware during the course of her performance,” the letter states.
Wolkoff’s attorney’s were quick to respond, calling the claims “unfounded and meritless” and arguing that the Gratuitous Services Agreement did not apply and was unenforceable as it was terminated more than two years ago.
In the New York Times bestseller, Wolkoff reveals how her friend of 15 years spearheaded “Operation Block Ivanka” to ensure the president's eldest daughter didn’t hog the limelight at the inauguration, and dished that the first lady showed little sympathy for children being taken from their parents during the 2018 family separation crisis.
Legal threats sent by Trump’s outside counsel, including from the likes of Kasowitz and celebrity lawyer Charles Harder, to the president and his inner circle’s political and personal enemies are nothing new. In fact, in the Trump era, it’s become routine. However, when it came to Wolkoff’s juicy “tell-all” book, the matter went far beyond Donald or Melania’s personal attorneys. William Barr’s DOJ got directly involved, as well.
On July 15, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, Ethan P. Davis, joined the ultimately failed efforts to prevent the book—or their perceived version of such a book—from ever hitting shelves, also citing the gratuitous services agreement in a letter to Wolkoff’s attorney.
“If these reports are true, the book appears to contain government information that Ms. Wolkoff expressly promised to not disclose. Please confirm immediately, but no later than July 17, that Ms. Wolkoff’s book will not contain any information covered by the agreement. If you are unable to do so, the government will pursue all available legal remedies,” reads the letter.
Early this month, a Law.com article described Davis as “a top U.S. Justice Department official overseeing the defense of Trump administration policies in court” who had announced his “plans to step down… as the acting head of the civil division” at the department.
“If this concerned an agreement she signed with the government for work she performed for the Office of the First Lady, then there is nothing improper with DOJ reminding her of the terms of that agreement. However, you really have to wonder if DOJ really has nothing better to do with its time,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer who in the past has separately handled FOIA litigation for media outlets, including The Daily Beast.
The Justice Department and the office of the First Lady did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story. The DOJ spokeswoman also did not immediately reply when asked if any “legal remedies” were ever pursued or explored in the time since the letter was sent.
In recent months, the East Wing had moved to discredit Wolkoff before the release of her book, saying in a statement, “This book is not only wildly self-aggrandizing, it’s just not truthful. It is an exercise in bizarre twisting of the truth and misguided blame for the sake of self-pity. It’s unfortunate and concerning that she’s overstated their friendship and her very brief role in the White House to this degree.” Meanwhile, the first lady had pointedly referred to Wolkoff’s recent output in a tweet as “delusional and malicious gossip” from a former friend.
Trump and his administration have made other high-profile, concerted efforts to block books deemed negative to the president, his White House, or his family. Recent examples include unflattering portrayals released by Mary Trump, the president’s niece; John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser and a well-known foreign-policy hawk; and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former longtime “fixer” and lawyer.
However, these threats have typically fallen flat or backfired, with the president’s legal saber-rattling often generating more publicity and sales for these books, and the threats themselves predictably failing to halt publication or exact any substantive retribution in the courts.
With regards to Bolton’s book published earlier this year, news broke this month that the Department of Justice had opened a criminal investigation into whether the former national security official had unlawfully published classified information. But on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that a career U.S. official alleged in a court filing that White House aides had “improperly intervened to prevent a manuscript” by Bolton from coming out, and accused them of “making false assertions and trying to coerce her to join their efforts, and suggesting that they retaliated when she refused.”
While the Southern District of New York continues their probe into the inauguration's fundraising and spending, a judge earlier this month ruled a lawsuit, brought by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine, alleging that the Trump Organization and the president’s inaugural committee misused nonprofit funds to enrich the president's family business could continue.
“It’s important that the truth come out and justice be served,” Wolkoff said about the decision.