Three former White House attorneys who worked for the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations say a contract offered to Melania Trump’s former adviser and friend is unusual and inappropriate.
The contract, presented to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in 2017, known as the “Gratuitous Services Agreement,” provided that she would not have to disclose her work on behalf of Melania Trump unless she received express written approval. She agreed to do the job for free.
Winston Wolkoff, a New York friend of Melania’s, had planned the January 201
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 that describes the breakdown of their relationship.
“I would not have approved this agreement when I was a White House attorney,” said Neil Eggleston, who worked for President Barack Obama.
In a statement, Winston Wolkoff said: “The use of the US Department of Justice by the President and First Lady to silence me is a violation of my First Amendment rights and an obvious abuse by the government for their own personal interests and interests Pursue goals. “
Donald Trump has a long-established pattern of asking Trump Organization employees and business partners to sign nondisclosure agreements. That practice continued at the White House, and NBC News reported that it also extended to doctors at Walter Reed Hospital who saw Trump during an unscheduled visit in 2019.
Former White House attorneys said government employees are generally not forced to sign nondisclosure agreements like Winston Wolkoff’s because they violate First Amendment rights. An exception is made for classified information.
White House staff must be given a security clearance. To do this, they need to fill out a long SF-86 form and submit a financial disclosure form.
Winston Wolkoff’s contract, which NBC News has reviewed, states that she is not a government employee and does not specifically require her to fill out an SF-86 or financial disclosure form. It says: “A successful reference test, background investigation, criminal history investigation and / or income tax test are a prerequisite for approval in order to provide these free services.”
However, Winston Wolkoff told NBC News that she was asked to fill out an SF-86 and a financial disclosure form. She said she did so and obtained a White House passport and was allowed to use a government-issued phone and computer.
Richard Painter, chief ethics attorney for the White House under President George W. Bush, called the Winston Wolkoff treaty “bizarre” and “a fundamentally dishonest agreement and a violation of public trust”. The painter said such a contract opens up the possibility of multiple people “walking 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 attorney under President Bill Clinton, also because Winston Wolkoff was unpaid. “A contract, in order to be valid, generally requires an offer, an acceptance and a consideration, the ultimate meaning being something of value that is usually either paid for or done as work. It’s hard to see the respect this volunteer has received. “
The Justice Department wrote in its lawsuit that work in the White House was of “tremendous” professional and personal value to Winston Wolkoff.
However, at the time the contract ended in 2018, Winston Wolkoff said that then White House ethics attorney Stefan Passantino told her the contract was a “risk,” and the White House, Donald Trump and Melania Trump had all agreed to terminate the contract. He told her she was welcome to visit the White House as a “friend” of the first lady, but would stop any work she did on her initiative.
Passantino did not respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, Melania Trump criticized Winston Wolkoff in a blog post, saying that Winston Wolkoff “barely” knows her, “clings to her” after Trump’s angry victory in 2016 and is now trying to “distort my character”.