When it comes to White House staff, the workplace just keeps taking hits. But this time it's not President Donald Trump cutting ties — it's First Lady Melania Trump, and the staffer's name has been plastered all over the internet since Feb. 26. So, who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff? She's the first lady's friend and adviser who's being demoted from her position amid controversy related to the president's inauguration and a $26 million payment.
Wolkoff is a long-time friend of Trump's and was reportedly one of the first people she hired after her husband's election, according to USA Today. Since, Wolkoff has worked in Trump's office on a "contract basis" as an unpaid senior adviser. However, on Feb. 26, The New York Times reported that Trump had terminated Wolkoff's contract after learning that her friend's firm, WIS Media Partners, received $26 million to plan events for the president's inauguration. Though Wolkoff will no longer work as a contracted employee, the publication added that Wolkoff will still serve as Trump's unofficial adviser, but she won't be involved in official White House business.
According to the Times, Trump's spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said that the office had “severed the gratuitous services contract with Ms. Wolkoff,” who worked as “a special government employee." Grisham added, “We thank her for her hard work and wish her all the best.”
But Wolkoff challenged the reports, insisting that her contract was terminated for reasons other than the funds. She said via email to the Times “I was informed by the White House counsel’s office that all gratuitous volunteer contracts were ended." She also mentioned that she doesn't think her relationship with Trump will change, despite the termination, saying, “I expect to remain a trusted source for advice and support on an informal basis," before adding, “I am proud of the work that we did to support the inauguration.”
Wolkoff's firm was paid $26 million from the presidential inaugural committee.
In January 2018, the Times reported that a nonprofit organization that was in charge of the president's inauguration and other events paid Wolkoff nearly $26 million for event planning services, which upset the business mogul turned president, who has a reputation for being close-fisted, when he learned of the hefty payment. His displeasure was reportedly fueled even further after learning that Wolkoff herself had personally received at least $1.62 million from the committee that was supposed to donate leftover funds to charity, according to Politico.
The inaugural committee raised $106.7 million for the inauguration that was supposed to be allocated for event planning companies, salaries, employee benefits and more, with the remainder going to charities. However, in tax filings that were released by the Times, the committee paid over $57 million to event planning companies, and only donated a "less-than-expected" $5 million to charities. Wolkoff's company, WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, California, received one of the largest payouts, totaling $25,843,509, according to USA Today.
Not everyone has been a fan of Wolkoff.
According to Politico, many White House staffers haven't been a fan of Wolkoff — some reportedly seeing her as someone who capitalized off her relationship with Trump. An administration official opened up about one of those frustrations with the publication, saying, “One thing that grates at people is she is supposed to work at the White House, but she still gets to live in New York City."
And when speaking about the hefty funds Wolkoff received, another official added, “The fact that so much was given to her company has really raised eyebrows."
Though this situation has been a bit sketchy, at least Trump was able to take a page out of her hubby's book and sever a business tie when she felt appropriate. I just wonder if she used his classic "You're fired!" when making the call.