Sep 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Melania Trump used private email accounts in the White House, ex-aide tells WashPost

First lady Melania Trump addresses the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden at the White House on August 25

First lady Melania Trump addresses the Republican National Convention fat the White House on Aug. 25. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

First lady Melania Trump "regularly" used private email accounts while in the White House, her former adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff alleged to the Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday night.

Why it matters: President Trump made the FBI investigation into 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's private emails and server a major focus of his first presidential campaign and has continued to raise the issue during his re-election bid.

  • Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, noted to WashPost that while a first lady isn't on the government's staff, "if she is doing United States government business, she should be using the White House email."

The allegations: Winston Wolkoff told WashPost that the first lady used "a private Trump Organization email account, an email from a domain, iMessage and the encrypted messaging app, Signal" and that the pair exchanged messages "multiple times a day."

  • WashPost reports it "viewed messages dated after the inauguration that appear to be from private email and messaging accounts used by Melania Trump" on issues including government hires and contracts, plans for overseas trips and "finances for the presidential inauguration, key parts of which Winston Wolkoff, an experienced New York City events producer, planned."

The other side: Axios has contacted the White House and Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's chief of staff and spokesperson, for comment. But Grisham has previously said that Winston Wolkoff's book was full of "mistruths" and "revenge" tactics.

  • "Anybody who secretly tapes their self-described best friend is, by definition, dishonest," she said, per ABC.

Of note: The email allegations do not feature in Winston Wolkoff's book "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady," which was published on Tuesday.

  • The Presidential Records Act allows for the use of personal accounts, but if records aren't "carefully maintained, the White House might not be able to produce them in response to a subpoena," WashPost points out.
  • House Democrats launched an investigation last year into official communications records sent via "non-official electronic messaging accounts by non-career officials at the White House," including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has also faced scrutiny over the use of private email to conduct official business.

What else she's saying: Appearing on MSNBC Tuesday night, Winston Wolkoff defended privately recording conversations she had with the first lady.

  • "If she was my friend, it would be horrible," she said. "But Melania and the White House had accused me of criminal activity and publicly shamed and fired me and made me their scapegoat," Wolkoff said.
  • "At that moment in time, that's when I pressed record. She was no longer my friend and she was willing to let them take me down."
Go deeper