The White House has dismissed the new book as "full of mistruths and paranoia"

By Adam Carlson
August 31, 2020 11:59 AM
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Though the White House is preemptively deriding Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's upcoming memoir as deceitful — and calling her a dishonest paranoiac — First Lady Melania Trump's former friend told ABC News on Monday that "I can back up everything that’s in the book, 100 percent."

Wolkoff, a high-profile events planner who has known President Donald Trump's wife for nearly two decades, thrust her falling out with the first lady into the spotlight when she decided to release a tell-all, Melania and Me, set to be released on Tuesday.

"The Melania I first met versus the Melania there is today is a very different person," Wolkoff said in her ABC News interview.

Her book was excerpted in New York last week and various news outlets have since reported on its contents, which detail how Wolkoff grew close to Mrs. Trump and how Wolkoff followed her to the White House as an East Wing adviser and inauguration planner before being ousted in 2018 over what Wolkoff has said was a scapegoating about the inauguration cost.

As she told The New York Times last year: “Was I fired? No. Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes.”

That sense of betrayal threads Melania and Me, which reportedly provides an up-close view of the famously private first lady through the years as well as scenes from Wolkoff's time in the East Wing and working on the events around the Trump inauguration.

Two anecdotes in particular have gotten widespread attention. Wolkoff addressed both in her ABC News interview.

In her book, she writes of friction between Mrs. Trump and her stepdaughter Ivanka Trump, now a senior administration aide, whom the first lady felt was encroaching on both the inauguration and her White House purview.

So "Operation Block Ivanka" was born, Wolkoff wrote — an admittedly "petty" effort to exclude Ivanka from photos of her dad being sworn in as president.

"You don’t do that to the first lady of the United States of America," Wolkoff told ABC News. "You do not try and position yourself as more important, and Melania was not having that."

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (left) and First Lady Melania Trump in 2017
Clint Spaulding/WWD/Shutterstock

Wolkoff, who wrote that the first lady referred to Ivanka as "Princess" (a detail that has been previously published elsewhere), told ABC Ivanka "turned into princess who wanted to be queen."

She also remembered the lunch she had with Mrs. Trump in 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which the future president had been recorded bragging about grabbing women "by the p----."

When they met, Mrs. Trump was not outwardly rattled by the blistering controversy that, at the time, seemed to seriously injure her husband's campaign.

"Now, if any other human being or any other one of my friends, I would have expected to see them in tears, right? She was smilingt was as if nothing happened," Wolkoff recalled to ABC. "And I swear to you, I had like a glitch in my brain, 'cause I was like — is this really happening at this moment, is it surreal that her husband just came out and said these horrible things?"

The two shared a relieving laugh when Wolkoff asked "How many times have you heard the word 'p----' and 'president' in the same sentence?"

"Then I said to her, ‘Are you upset though? And doesn’t this get you angry that Donald would say something like this?’ " Wolkoff said to ABC.

But that wasn't quite the way to look at it, Wolkoff said.

"Melania’s a pragmatist, Melania always — you know, if you can’t control people’s emotions then why even worry about it," she said. "And that’s how she lived her life and that is what she stood by every day."

That quality, in fact, was one of the things that first drew Wolkoff to the future first lady.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (left) and Melania Trump in 2008
BILLY FARRELL/Patrick McMullan via Getty
From left: Melania and Donald Trump with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff
Billy Farrell/ BFA

"What attracted me to Melania is her strength, her independence, her doesn’t-matter-what-anybody-else-thinks attitude. I mean, she told you about her jacket [the infamous 'I Really Don't Care Do U?' jacket, which Mrs. Trump insisted was a jab at the media] ... she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her," Wolkoff said. "That’s true confidence."

But, Wolkoff says now, her mistake was in misunderstanding the former Melania Knauss' truest self.

"I gave Melania the benefit of the doubt that she was my friend, she was different than Donald was, she was different than the other Trump children. ... [But] a Trump is a Trump is a Trump."

In the days leading up to Melania and Me's publication, there have been multiple reports that Wolkoff taped her conversations with Mrs. Trump, including the first lady criticizing her husband and stepchildren.

Wolkoff declined to comment about that to ABC, though the White House has expected the release of the recordings for days.

Still, Wolkoff told ABC: "I can back up the book. There’s nothing in the book that I can’t back up. Not one word. And Donald and Melania know that."

Administration officials have dismissed many of the memoirs about the first family that have been published by former friends and advisers, and Melania and Me is no different.

"Anybody who secretly tapes their self-described best friend is by definition, dishonest," the first lady's chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement to PEOPLE. "The book is not only full of mistruths and paranoia, it it is based on some imagined need for revenge. Wolkoff builds herself up while belittling and blaming everyone she worked with, yet she still managed to be the victim."

"Sadly," Grisham said, "this is a deeply insecure woman whose need to be relevant defies logic."

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff
Andrew Toth/Getty

In a previous statement to Politico, Grisham cast Wolkoff much the same: "This book is not only wildly self-aggrandizing, it’s just not truthful. It is an exercise in bizarre twisting of the truth and misguided blame for the sake of self-pity. It’s unfortunate and concerning that she’s overstated their friendship and her very brief role in the White House to this degree."

Appearing on MSNBC earlier this month, Grisham said she had "never heard Mrs. Trump say anything disparaging about the family.”

"They're a close-knit family. ... It sounds like it’s just another one of those books that, unfortunately, people are writing," Grisham said then.