Three former White House lawyers who worked for the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations say a contract offered to Melania Trump’s former adviser and friend was unusual and inappropriate.
The contract presented to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in 2017, called a “Gratuitous Services Agreement,” required that she not disclose the work she performed on behalf of Melania Trump unless she received express written permission. She agreed to perform the work without pay.
Winston Wolkoff, a friend from Melania in New York, had planned the festivities for President Trump̵
She is now being sued by the Department of Justice for violating the confidentiality agreement in the contract by writing her book “Melania and Me,” a New York Times bestseller describing the breakdown in their relationship.
“I would not have approved this agreement when I was an adviser to the White House,” said Neil Eggleston, who worked for President Barack Obama.
In a statement, Winston Wolkoff said: “The President and First Lady’s use of the US Department of Justice to silence me is a violation of my rights to the First Amendment and a blatant abuse of government to pursue their own personal interests and goals.”
Donald Trump has a long-established pattern of asking the Trump Organization’s employees and business partners to sign confidentiality agreements. This practice continued in the White House, and NBC News reported that it also extended to doctors at Walter Reed Hospital who saw Trump during an unplanned visit in 2019.
Former White House lawyers said government officials are generally not forced to sign confidentiality agreements like the one delivered to Winston Wolkoff because they violate the rights to the First Amendment. An exception is made for classified information.
White House staff are required to obtain security clearance and to do so must complete a lengthy SF-86 form and submit some form of financial information.
Winston Wolkoff’s contract, which has been reviewed by NBC News, states that she is not a government employee and it is not specific that she fills out an SF-86 or financial disclosure forms. It says, “A successful reference check, background check, criminal history investigation and / or income tax check will be a prerequisite for being cleared to provide these free services.”
However, Winston Wolkoff told NBC News that she was asked to fill out an SF-86 and financial information. She says she did so and received a White House passport and was allowed to use a government and telephone and computer.
Richard Painter, White House Chief Ethics Advocate under President George W. Bush, called the contract Winston Wolkoff was offered “bizarre” and “a fundamentally dishonest arrangement and a breach of public trust.” The painter said such a contract opens up the possibility of more people “running around the White House” who have not gone through the proper screening process.
“There’s a question about whether the contract is valid,” said Jack Quinn, White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, in part because Winston Wolkoff was not paid. A contract, in order to be valid, generally requires an offer, acceptance and ‘consideration’, where the latter means something of value, usually either paid or performed as work. It is difficult to see what consideration this volunteer received. ”
The Department of Justice wrote in its case that work in the White House was of “enormous” professional and personal value to Winston Wolkoff.
But at the time of the contract’s expiration in 2018, Winston Wolkoff said the then White House lawyer, Stefan Passantino, told her the contract was a “risk,” and the White House, Donald Trump, and Melania Trump all agreed to terminate the contract. . He told her that she was welcome to visit the White House as a “friend” of the first lady, but that he should stop all work she did on her initiative.
Passantino did not respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, Melania criticized Trump’s Winston Wolkoff in a blog post, saying that Winston Wolkoff “barely knew” her, “clung to her” after Trump’s disruptive victory in 2016 and now “tried to distort my character.”