The White House is once again cleaning house. A spokeswoman for Melania Trump confirmed Monday that the first lady has “severed the gratuitous services contract” between the White House and her senior adviser, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
“We thank her for her hard work and wish her all the best,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham added in a statement to the New York Times.
Winston Wolkoff, who was hired by FLOTUS in January 2017, was reportedly terminated in the wake of a Feb. 15 New York Times report that her event planning firm was paid $26 million by President Trump‘s nonprofit inaugural committee. The firm, WIS Media Partners, was created by Winston Wolkoff in December 2016, just weeks before her hiring was announced.
The 47-year-old Winston Wolkoff reportedly also hired an associate, David Monn, who was paid $3.7 million for his help in organizing two events around the inauguration.
The excessive spending has prompted intense backlash and accusations of cronyism. President Trump is also said to be livid about the financial revelations, while Grisham insisted that the first lady had “no knowledge of how funds were spent” and was not involved in planning the inauguration.
Winston Wolkoff, however, downplayed the controversy in a series of emails to the Times, describing the media attention as “unfair.”
“I was informed by the White House counsel’s office that all gratuitous volunteer contracts were ended,” she said. “I expect to remain a trusted source for advice and support on an informal basis.”
She added that she was “proud” of her work on the inauguration and claimed that all but $1.62 million of the $26 million charge was paid out to subcontractors, that profit was then “divided among our staff of 15 members (including myself),” she wrote.
Just how did this former New York City event planner — and kin to one of the world’s most celebrated jeweler families — become a political headline? Here’s what you need to know.
She’s one of those Winstons.
Though her biological father is photographer Barry Batinkoff, she changed her name when her mother wed Bruce Winston, son of the famous jeweler Harry Winston. She defended herself against criticism that she was misrepresenting her family background in a 2017 Times profile, explaining, “I’ve seen [Batinkoff] twice in 20 years and Bruce adopted me.”
She has known Melania Trump for a long time.
A 2016 Harper’s Bazaar profile of the future first lady cited Winston Wolkoff as a friend of nearly 20 years. The then “fashion industry consultant” offered the magazine this quote about the Trump marriage: “Donald is always full speed ahead. It is constant with him. But Melania went into the marriage understanding who he was, and she is accepting of him.”
She also spoke about the friendship, which started when Winston Wolkoff worked at Vogue, to DuJour, describing monthly lunch dates and trips to Mar-a-Lago.
“Don’t underestimate her just because she is quiet and reserved,” she told the magazine about Melania Trump. “There is virtue in the fact that she appears to be quiet and isn’t on the front lines constantly saying, Hear me, see me. But she’s very confident in her viewpoint. She does not agree with everything that [Donald] says or everything that’s being done, but she believes in the greater good. They are a power couple. They are each other’s teammate.”
She’s got major fashion connections.
Following graduation from Loyola in 1993, Winston Wolkoff started work at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. According to a 2012 Refinery29 interview — which also offered a tour of her swanky Upper East Side home — she then transitioned into a PR manager and special events director for Vogue. In addition to forging a close working relationship with Anna Wintour, who reportedly dubbed her “the General,” Winston Wolkoff oversaw high-profile functions like the Met Ball. She went on to work as fashion director at Lincoln Center before launching her own event-planning firm, SWW Creative, handling a number of New York Fashion Week events.
“I believe completely in formal education, but no classroom could have taught me the resourcefulness and creativity that I learned while on the job and in the company of some of the most astounding visionaries in art, design, politics, and media,” she told Refinery29. “In the end, production really interests me just for that unbelievable feeling in that moment when you watch weeks, months, and sometimes even years of planning come together in one seamless event.”
She’s very tall.
A 2000 Times wedding announcement described Winston Wolkoff as being 6 feet 1.
”She’s everything you want to hate in a girl,” friend Kim Gardner told the paper. ”She’s tall, she’s accomplished, she’s athletic, she’s thin, she’s in, she’s hip, she works at Vogue. But she’s a sweetheart. You can’t hate her. You have to love her.”
She’s married, with three children.
Winston Wolkoff and real estate developer David Wolkoff will celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary on March 18. The couple met on a blind date and were married in a Jewish ceremony at the luxury Manhattan hotel the Pierre, where wedding guest Anna Wintour described the bride as looking like Audrey Hepburn. They have three children: Zachary, Tyler, and Alexi.
It remains unclear if Winston Wolkoff’s influence with the first lady will continue, as she expects, now that she is no longer working with the White House in an official capacity. Did she take advantage of her Trump connections, or is she being scapegoated?
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