US First Lady Melania Trump addresses the Republican Convention during its second day from the Rose Garden of the White House August 25, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
The Justice Department on Tuesday sued the author of a book about first lady Melania Trump, claiming that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff broke a nondisclosure agreement that barred her from revealing confidential information obtained during her work for the president’s wife.
The lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., asks a judge to order Winston Wolkoff to surrender any profits from her book, “Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady,” to a government trust.
Winston Wolkoff, who had been close friends with Melania Trump, previously served as a volunteer advisor to the first lady after President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
The suit, whose lead signatory is acting Assistant Attorney General John Coghlan, accuses Winston Wolkoff of “flat violation” of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary obligations to the first lady.
The complaint says that Winston Wolkoff agreed in 2017 to a so-called gratuitous services agreement. That pact contained a confidentiality clause in which she “promised to maintain strict confidentiality over ‘nonpublic, privileged and/or confidential information’ that she might obtain during her service,” the suit says.
That deal “included no termination date” for its conditions, according to the suit, which says that Wolkoff had “access to significant confidential information related to the First Lady’s official duties as well as to more private aspects of her role in the First Family.”
The Justice Department also claims that Winston Wolkoff had “indirect access to deliberative information, to which the First Lady was privy, related to the President’s official duties on behalf of the country.”
Former Vogue special event planner Stephanie Winston Wolkoff stops for a photo in front of the media at Trump Tower in New York on December 5, 2016.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images
Despite Winston Wolkoff’s promise of confidentiality, the Justice Department said, she “has written a book that Simon & Schuster [the book’s publisher] promotes as a ‘scathing tell-all’ and an ‘epic scream of a tell-all.'”
The book was published at the beginning of September.
The suit says Winston Wolkoff never submitted a draft of the book to Melania Trump, her chief of staff, or to the Office of the White House Counsel and “never received authorization to disclose any information she learned pursuant to her work under the Agreement.”
Winston Wolkoff previously told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that in the weeks before the book went on sale, she was contacted by both the White House and the Justice Department in an effort to stop its publication.
“A couple of months ago, I had a cease-and-desist” warning, Winston Wolkoff said in that interview. “The last thing that any of these people want is for the truth to be told.”
In an interview last month with ABC’s “The View,” Winston Wolkoff said, “I did not break the NDA,” referring to the nondisclosure agreement.
“I’ve been working with First Amendment lawyers the entire time, pre-publishing lawyers, so this was handled extremely carefully,” Winston Wolkoff said.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of failed legal efforts by President Trump’s late brother Robert to prevent the publication of another tell-all book, one written by their niece Mary Trump, which portrays the president in a damning light.
Winston Wolkoff, 49, is a past fashion director of Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week, and former director of special events at Vogue magazine. She also served as executive producer of Trump’s inauguration.
Her book says that Melania Trump delayed moving into the White House to allow for the renovation of her bathroom because she wanted to avoid using the same shower and toilet that ex-first lady Michelle Obama had used.
A spokeswoman for Melania Trump, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, and a press representative for Simon & Schuster did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
The first lady’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham previously told NBC News, when asked about Winston Wolkoff, “Anybody who secretly tapes their self-described best friend is by definition dishonest.”
“The book is full of mistruths and paranoia and clearly based on some imagined need for revenge.”
— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Jim Forkin contributed to this report.