WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday 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 U.S. District Court in Washington, Justice Department lawyers said Winston Wolkoff, a former aide who fell out with the first lady, failed to submit to 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.
Winston 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 U.S. 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.”
The complaint said the Justice Department has jurisdiction in the case because of the first lady’s traditional public role dating back to Martha Washington, wife of the first U.S. president, George Washington.
The government asked that any profits Winston Wolkoff might realize from the book and subsequent movie deal or documentaries 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 best seller list. It sells for $16.80 on amazon.com.
“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 Winston 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 Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.
The government action was similar to Justice Department 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 any way and a court battle continues over his book, “The Room Where It Happened.”
Winston 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.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Sarah Lynch; Editing by Howard Goller and Michael Perr)