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The Justice Department, of the United States, filed suit Tuesday against Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend with (work) benefits of Melania Trump, over the publication of her memoir about her friendship with the first lady. Wolkoff, who was an event planner operating in the world of fashion, had a 15-year relationship with Melania that came to an end in 2018 when she was forced out of a volunteer role in the first lady’s office after questions were raised about Wolkoff’s role in the Trump administration’s questionable inauguration spending. On Sept. 1, Simon & Schuster published Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady, which it billed as a “scathing tell-all,” and which contained a number of embarrassing moments for the now–first lady.
Why is the Justice Department getting involved? That’s a good question. The first lady is not a government employee, and while disclosing private conversations might not make you a good friend—or a good person—it doesn’t seem like something for the long arm of the U.S government to be rooting around in. But this is the Department of Justice as we know it in the Trump administration, more than willing to attempt to mete out punishment as intimidation for anything considered an affront to Donald Trump Inc. To get involved, the DOJ said it had standing because Wolkoff had signed a nondisclosure agreement surrounding her work in the East Wing. “This was a contract with the United States and therefore enforceable by the United States,” a DOJ spokesperson said. The suit claims this is true because the NDA was “memorialized on ‘The White House—Washington’ stationery.” Uh-huh.
Helping to come up with Melania’s “Be Best” program or whatever-it-is isn’t exactly a state secret. The DOJ is trying to say that the NDA required Wolkoff to get authorization before disclosing how terrible Melania is. Now, it’s trying to claw back any profits Wolkoff might make from the book, like she’s Edward Snowden or something. The whole thing reeks of intimidation and an expansive idea of what our government—or corporate—overlords are entitled to in our day-to-day work lives. “Attorneys who have represented government whistleblowers and news media called the suit an abuse of the Justice Department’s resources to punish a presidential critic, saying the agreement to restrict information other than classified data is unenforceable,” the Washington Post notes. But actual enforcement, of course, was never really the point.