Justice Dept. sues to seize profits of tell-all Melania Trump book, citing White House nondisclosure pact

In a statement, Wolkoff said she fulfilled all the terms of the agreement and that its confidentiality provisions ended when the White House terminated it.

Winston Wolkoff, 50, had a 15-year friendship with Melania Trump before she was ousted in 2018 as an unpaid senior adviser to the first lady in a scandal involving President Trump’s $107 million inauguration. Winston Wolkoff has said she felt “betrayed” when news accounts focused on $26 million paid to her event-planning firm by the inauguration. Most of the money went to pay for inaugural events, and she personally retained $484,126, The Washington Post has reported.

In the book, Winston Wolkoff described what she viewed as extensive mismanagement and opaque accounting for the inauguration, after which she cooperated with law enforcement investigators.

But the former right-hand events planner to Vogue editor Anna Wintour has created a larger media storm this month by playing excerpts of phone conversations that she began secretly recording with the first lady in February 2018 without her knowledge.

Melania Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, has lambasted Winston Wolkoff for the recordings.

“Secretly taping the first lady and willfully breaking an NDA to publish a salacious book is a clear attempt at relevance,” Grisham said in an Oct. 2 statement to CNN. “The timing of this continues to be suspect — as does this never-ending exercise in self-pity and narcissism.”

The lawsuit is likely to draw renewed attention to the tapes, which capture Melania Trump venting in profane language about her frustrations with critical media coverage, expectations about her role in planning White House Christmas decorations and defending the administration’s separation of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Who gives a f— about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” Trump said in one portion played in interviews with Winston Wolkoff by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

On another recording, the first lady refers to porn star Stormy Daniels as “the porn hooker.” Porn actresses took to Twitter and accused her of shaming sex workers. The recording played on “Mea Culpa,” a podcast hosted by Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, who went to jail for lying to investigators about paying hush money to Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump before he became president. President Trump has denied the affair.

According to the lawsuit, Winston Wolkoff served as an adviser to the first lady from January to August 21, 2017, helping Melania Trump assemble her staff, remodel the East Wing and communicate with the media.

Winston Wolkoff then entered a formal “Gratuitous services Agreement” that included, among other things, the handling of “nonpublic, privileged and/or confidential information,” the suit asserts. Serving as a volunteer policy and media adviser, Winston Wolkoff agreed that she was “specifically prohibited from publishing, reproducing or otherwise divulging any such information to any unauthorized person or entity in whole or in part,” the Justice Department said in court filings.

The agreement also bound Winston Wolkoff to not disclose her work with the first lady’s office to anyone without written

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Barr’s Approach Closes Gap Between Justice Dept. and White House

WASHINGTON — When the top federal prosecutor in Washington recently accused the local police of arresting protesters without probable cause, Attorney General William P. Barr stepped in.

Mr. Barr, who has frequently voiced his support for police officers, brought in the U.S. attorney, Michael Sherwin, to meet with the chief of the Washington police and other top law enforcement officials, escalating the local dispute to the top of the Justice Department.

The meeting grew heated, but ultimately, Mr. Sherwin backed down, according to three people familiar with the encounter. Mr. Barr told Mr. Sherwin to write a letter that said he had not meant to imply that the police had acted unlawfully. In a nod to Mr. Sherwin’s original objection, the Washington police are working with prosecutors to identify video and other evidence to back up the arrests.

The episode was an example of Mr. Barr’s approach to running the Justice Department under President Trump: an agenda that is squarely in line not only with the White House but also with the Trump campaign’s law-and-order platform and assertions that Democrats have made the United States less safe. Critics argued that the department’s norm of independence from politics, widely seen as an anticorruption measure that grew out of the post-Watergate era, was at risk.

Mr. Barr has threatened legal action against Democratic leaders who sparred with the president over stay-at-home orders during the pandemic and echoed Mr. Trump’s accusation that they were not tough enough on protesters during nationwide unrest over race and policing. He led federal agents who patrolled the streets of Washington against the wishes of the mayor. And this week, the Justice Department seemed to play into the president’s efforts to undermine voting by mail, making an unusual disclosure about an investigation into nine discarded military mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.

In public comments, Mr. Barr has expounded on topics outside of what recent attorneys general publicly discussed during an election, particularly his sharp critiques of Democrats and his grim pronouncements that they could destroy democracy. In a recent interview with a Chicago journalist, after acknowledging that he is not supposed to wade into politics but narrowly defining that as campaign appearances, Mr. Barr declared that the country would “go down a socialist path” if it elects former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Under Mr. Barr, the Justice Department is as close as it has been to the White House in a half-century, historians said. Not since John N. Mitchell steered the Nixon re-election effort from the fifth floor of the Justice Department has an attorney general wielded the power of the office to so bluntly serve a presidential campaign, they said.

“The norm has been that attorneys general try to keep the reputation of the department bright and shiny as a nonpartisan legitimate arm of the government that needs to be trusted by everyone,” said Andrew Rudalevige, a history professor at Bowdoin College who studies the power of the presidency.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Justice Dept. Denies House Panel’s Request for Officials to Appear After Combative Barr Hearing

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Monday denied a congressional oversight committee’s request to hear from top officials, accusing Democrats of having “squandered” their opportunity to get relevant information from Attorney General William P. Barr this summer by instead using their time to “air grievances.”

The House Judiciary Committee had asked that Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, appear this month to discuss the division, and that Michael Carvajal, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, and Donald Washington, the director of the U.S. Marshals Service, appear for an oversight hearing on Oct. 1.

The department said in a letter to Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the committee, that Mr. Barr had been advised that he could be asked about police misconduct, voting rights, the coronavirus and federal prisons, and the civil unrest this spring and summer.

He appeared before the committee in July prepared to discuss those issues, the department said, but Democrats were more interested in “scolding and insulting” him.

“Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to obtain information from the head of the Department of Justice about precisely these matters, many committee members chose instead to use their allotted time to air grievances,” the department wrote in the letter.

“Having squandered its opportunity to conduct a meaningful oversight hearing with the attorney general, it remains unclear how further public spectacles with other department officials would now — a mere 14 legislative days since the attorney general’s hearing — advance the committee’s legitimate oversight efforts,” the department said.

A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hearing with Mr. Barr was particularly contentious, with Democrats often refusing to let the attorney general respond to their questions or their accusations. The Democrats, in turn, were angered as Mr. Barr ignored questions about his rationale or actions, or quibbled over details.

Democrats and their allies argued after the hearing that Mr. Barr would not have answered their questions in good faith had they let him respond, and that he would have filibustered and wasted the time. Better, they said, to use the time to air their grievances.

The department argued on Monday that this did “preciously little to advance any legitimate interest” because the committee as a result of this tactic learned no new information.

“When the attorney general tried to address the committee’s questions, he was interrupted and silenced in excess of 70 times,” the department said in its letter. “One member interrupted him and admitted, ‘Well, I don’t want you to tell your story.’”

While the department was unwilling to let Mr. Dreiband, Mr. Carvajal or Mr. Washington testify this fall, it said it would share information and work to schedule future hearings if the committee committed to conducting itself in “an appropriate and productive manner.”

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State Dept. provides House Dems docs previously given to Ron Johnson’s Biden probe

The State Department on Friday turned over 16,000 pages of documents to a House committee that were previously given to Senate Republicans investigating Joe and Hunter Biden — providing Democrats with key information as a top GOP senator prepares to release a report expected to be highly critical of the Democratic presidential nominee.

The massive document production to the House Foreign Affairs Committee led Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to rescind his July subpoena for the documents and pause the panel’s contempt proceedings against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It also comes as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is leading the GOP probe targeting the Bidens, is teasing a forthcoming report detailing the allegations, which center on Biden’s son Hunter and his role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Johnson has said his report is likely to be published next week.

Democrats have described Johnson’s probe as a politically motivated smear campaign against President Donald Trump’s challenger that has already been discredited and tainted by Russian propaganda. The intelligence community has identified a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, as an agent of a Russian disinformation campaign intended to denigrate Biden.

“This ‘investigation’ is obviously designed to boost the president’s campaign and tear down his opponent, while our own intelligence community warns it is likely to amplify Russian disinformation,” Engel said in a statement. “We’re going to make sure the American people see the whole picture, not just cherrypicked information aimed at breathing new life into debunked conspiracy theories.”

Democrats have raised concerns that material gathered by Derkach, who met in December with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has been laundered into Johnson’s material. Johnson has strenuously denied the allegations, but Democrats sought the documents he obtained from the State Department to understand the direction his probe is taking. POLITICO first reported that Derkach mailed information about the Bidens to Johnson, but Johnson’s office has denied receiving anything from Derkach.

Derkach has pushed many of the same claims against Biden that Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is pursuing. Johnson’s probe centers on allegations that a Democratic public-affairs firm sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma in order to influence the Obama-era State Department.

Johnson has also alleged that Hunter Biden’s role was itself a conflict of interest because his father, who at the time was the vice president, was spearheading U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

Johnson has drawn condemnation in recent weeks for characterizing his probe as potentially fatal to Biden’s presidential candidacy, a political calculation that Democrats said removed any doubt about the goal of his investigation.

Some Republicans have expressed discomfort with Johnson’s probe, too. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) last week described it as a “political exercise” and said he opposed Johnson’s efforts to subpoena additional witnesses as part of the investigation. POLITICO reported earlier this year that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Johnson that his probe could aid Russia’s

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House Committee Says State Dept. Tried to Hide Civilian Casualties in Arms Sales Report

The House foreign affairs committee released documents that its chairman said shows the State Department tried to “hide the truth” from Congress on the 2019 emergency declaration to seal more than $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries.



Joe Wilson, Eliot Engel are posing for a picture: Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks about a trip to Israel and Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives on January 28 in Washington, DC. Engel released documents yesterday showing the State Department’s attempt to hide facts in the arms sales report into the 2019 sale of military equipment to three Gulf states


© Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks about a trip to Israel and Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives on January 28 in Washington, DC. Engel released documents yesterday showing the State Department’s attempt to hide facts in the arms sales report into the 2019 sale of military equipment to three Gulf states

In a release, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House panel, criticized Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper, who is due to appear before the committee on Wednesday.

Cooper recommended in a July 10 memo to the department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that it “consider removing” from its inspection report an annex on civilian casualties to “resolve significant factual errors” which “may take time.”

Doing so would “allow that Report to be finalized, briefed to Congress, and released to the public,” Cooper wrote to Sandra Lewis, assistant inspector general for inspections at the OIG.

“The records we received today show just how hard the State Department wanted to hide the truth about last year’s phony emergency declaration,” Engel said in a statement.

“The picture is starting to come into focus: a top priority at Mike Pompeo’s State Department was to go around Congress to sell weapons, and his senior aides worked hard after the fact to obscure their indifference to civilian casualties.”

The documents also show that Cooper and State’s Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua Dorosin requested the OIG redact parts of the report on the grounds of “potential executive privilege concerns,” which the foreign affairs committee called “vague.”

The OIG responded to the request to say that “citing ‘potential Executive Privilege concerns’ does not properly invoke a claim of privilege that would justify the withholding of information that is otherwise appropriately released to the Congress and/or the public”.

Moreover, the OIG said some of the State Department’s “overly broad” requests for redaction appeared not to conform to U.S. Government practices for making redactions, including the department’s own Freedom of Information Act regulations.

It also said the redaction requests were applied inconcsistently across the report.

In May 2019, Pompeo issued an emergency declaration, bypassing congressional review requirements on arms sales, to sell military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Congress had blocked the $8 billion in sales to the three Gulf states, citing concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since 2015, including the high rates of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes using U.S.-supplied supplied weapons.

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According to a United Nations estimate, the conflict had caused 233,000 deaths by the end of 2019 and left more than

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House Dems investigating Pompeo, wife to face off with senior State Dept. officials

Two House Democratic chairs have been investigating allegations against Pompeo.

Months of tension between House Democrats and the State Department are set to spill out into public display on Wednesday when senior department officials testify about the firing of the agency’s inspector general.

President Donald Trump’s removal of the federal watchdog at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came as the independent office was investigating Pompeo and his wife leading to accusations of retaliation that the Pompeos have denied.

Those accusations were revived on Friday after the House published a transcript of two top Pompeo aides’ closed-door testimony.

The House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees’ Democratic chairs have been investigating several allegations against the top U.S. diplomat, including his unprecedented speech to the Republican National Convention, his cooperation with a Republican-led Senate investigation of Trump’s opponent Joe Biden and his private dinners at the State Department for elite guests.

Inspector general Steve Linick was fired in May. At the time, Pompeo confirmed he requested to have Linick removed and accused him of leaking or “investigating policies he simply didn’t like.”

Linick’s office was investigating allegations of the Pompeos’ use of career staff to run personal errands, the secretary’s use of an emergency authority to bypass Congress and sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the department rescinding an award to a Finnish journalist who criticized Trump and allegations of “workplace violence” in the Office of the Chief of Protocol.

Pompeo has denied that Linick’s firing was retaliatory — at first saying he was unaware of any investigations and then saying while he answered questions about the arms sale probe, he didn’t know the full scope.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 in Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 in Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 in Washington.

Stephen Akard, a longtime aide to Vice President Mike Pence who had served as acting inspector general after Linick was fired, told the House committees that “Pompeo was interested in the release of” the OIG’s Saudi arms sale probe, but that he had recused himself from it. As a political appointee who still served as director of State’s Office of Foreign Missions, he wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest before resigning in August.

Akard’s sworn affidavit, released by the committee Monday, is the latest participation by a department official in the committee’s probe. Its chair, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., released transcripts Friday from two top Pompeo aides, a longtime confidante Toni Porter and a career official Lisa Kenna, who serves as executive secretary, a key gatekeeper for a secretary of state.

Porter told the committees that she was interviewed two weeks ago by the Office of Inspector General about “misuse of government resources” by Pompeo and his wife Susan

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White House Asked Justice Dept. to Take Over Defamation Suit Against Trump, Barr Says

WASHINGTON — The White House asked the Justice Department to replace President Trump’s private lawyers to defend against a woman’s accusations that he defamed her last year in denying her claim that he sexually assaulted her a quarter-century ago, Attorney General William P. Barr said on Wednesday.

The Justice Department’s intervention in the lawsuit means that taxpayer money will be used to defend the president, and it threatens the continued viability of the case of the plaintiff, the author E. Jean Carroll.

Mr. Barr defended the decision to intervene, arguing that it was routine for the department to take over lawsuits against federal officials — substituting the government as the defendant.

“This was a normal application of the law,” Mr. Barr said during a news conference in Chicago. “The law is clear. It is done frequently. And the little tempest that is going on is largely because of the bizarre political environment in which we live.”

Ms. Carroll’s lawsuit has been reassigned from a New York State court to a Federal District Court judge in New York, Lewis A. Kaplan. If he signs off on the department’s certification that it meets the standards to substitute the government as the defendant, he could dismiss the lawsuit because the government has sovereign immunity and cannot be sued for defamation.

Mr. Barr’s public comments were his first since the Justice Department’s abrupt intervention a day earlier in the lawsuit brought by Ms. Carroll last November.

Mr. Barr said the department was responding to a memorandum from the White House requesting that it take over the case under a law called the Westfall Act, arguing that Mr. Trump had acted in his official capacity as president when he denied Ms. Carroll’s accusation that he had sexually assaulted her years ago in a department store dressing room.

Mr. Trump called Ms. Carroll a liar and said he did not know her, even though the two had been photographed together at a party in 1987 with Ms. Carroll’s former husband. He also said she was “not my type.” She then sued him for making defamatory statements about her.

The Carroll case was at a delicate moment for the president when the Justice Department intervened. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers had tried to put the lawsuit on hold, but a judge ruled last month that it could proceed. That ruling had also seemingly cleared a path for Ms. Carroll’s legal team to pursue its request that Mr. Trump provide a DNA sample to determine whether his genetic material is on a dress she was wearing at the time of the encounter.

The department’s motion to take control of the case came as Mr. Trump’s private lawyers were facing a deadline to appeal an order compelling a deposition and a DNA sample.

In portraying the Justice Department’s intervention this week as unremarkable, Mr. Barr did not explain why the administration had waited more than 10 months to step in.

The move to portray the case as centering on

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Interior Dept. seeks to expedite energy projects to speed COVID recovery -document

WASHINGTON, Sept 2 (Reuters) – The Interior Department sent a list of 50 major infrastructure projects, including 21 involving oil and gas drilling and mining, to the White House to be fast-tracked to “support economic recovery” from the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, according to a document obtained through a lawsuit by an environmental group.

A July 15 letter obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, from Deputy Interior Secretary Katharine MacGregor to White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, listed projects undergoing environmental review.

The list includes around 5,000 oil wells in Wyoming, liquefied natural gas projects in Alaska and Oregon and an offshore wind project in Massachusetts, as well as several mining, grazing and transmission projects.

The request came in response to an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on June 4 that gave federal agencies emergency powers to fast-track major energy and other infrastructure projects by overriding environmental permitting requirements.

Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson confirmed the request: “The Trump Administration has taken significant steps to improve the federal government’s decision-making process, while also ensuring that the environmental consequences of proposed projects are thoughtfully analyzed.”

Trump, a vocal advocate of fossil fuels as president, has sought to roll back environmental regulations across all federal agencies and reduce state powers to block projects for environmental reasons.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental regulation that creates time consuming environmental reviews and public feedback requirements for major infrastructure projects.

In the letter, MacGregor also said the Interior Department is working on expanding the list of “categorical exclusions” for projects to exempt them from full NEPA reviews.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit to obtain the documents after the group’s public records request was denied.

“Rushing to approve more climate-killing fossil fuel projects while ignoring environmental harms is wrong, and using COVID-19 as an excuse is despicable,” said Hartl. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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