Stephanie Winston Wolkoff discusses her new book "Melania and Me" with Rachel Maddow.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now with a big guest tonight.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. It is a big guest. I'm a little nervous for this discussion. It is not my usual bailiwick.
HAYES: I'm excited for it.
MADDOW: All right. Here it goes. Thank you, my friend.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. There is a lot going on in the news tonight and we do have a really big guest.
Let me tell you first the news breaking on the front page of "The Washington Post" tonight is this. Justice Department zeroing in on longtime GOP fund-raiser.
Here's the lead in this "Washington Post" story, quote, federal prosecutors are preparing to charge longtime Republican Party fund-raiser Elliott Broidy in connection with efforts to influence the U.S. government on behalf of foreign interests. Broidy helped raise millions for Donald Trump's election and the Republican Party. He has been in discussions with the justice department and could ultimately reach a plea deal.
If Elliott Broidy does reach a plea deal, if he agrees to testify about other people's crimes that he knows about in order to get lenience for himself, I have to tell you, this could get fairly nutty fairly quickly. Because of all the different things that Elliott Broidy has been involved in in the Trump era.
And this news from "The Washington Post" tonight comes at a remarkable time. I mean, we are two months out from the election now, in less than five months, we're going to be inaugurating either a new president, Joe Biden, or inaugurating the current one again, but meanwhile, tonight, we're apparently awaiting an indictment of one of the members of this president's last inaugural committee, who has been investigated by multiple prosecutors for allegedly using the first Trump inaugural as the basis for a massive alleged criminal foreign influence scheme.
And we have been seeing this slowly unspool for months now, building scandal around the unexplained financials, really, regarding the president's first inaugural. August 2018, Republican operative Sam Patton pled guilty to steering foreign money into Trump's inaugural. February 2019, February last year, there was news that SDNY prosecutors were looking at allegations of more illegal foreign money sloshing into the Trump inaugural.
April 2019, April last year, news that EDNY, Eastern District of New York -- federal prosecutors in Brooklyn were looking at whether there wasn't just foreign money sloshing into the Trump inaugural, but whether inaugural officials like Elliott Broidy might have been using Trump's inaugural to illegally sell access to foreign governments.
Yesterday in federal court in Hawaii, of all places, there was a guilty plea from somebody allegedly involved in this scheme with Elliott Broidy. She pled guilty. She is apparently helping prosecutors. Her name first appeared on subpoenas that were sent to the Trump inaugural committee from the federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York last summer.
Now as of yesterday, she has pled guilty. She's got a plea deal. "The Washington Post" tonight is reporting that Elliott Broidy himself is next.
Elliott Broidy was a major fund-raiser for the Trump inaugural. He was the vice chair of fund-raising for the Trump inaugural. He was also deputy finance chairman of the National Republican Party, named to that position after Trump was elected president.
The finance chairman of the RNC at the time was disgraced casino mogul Steve Wynn, who "The Washington Post" reports tonight may have been in on this alleged illegal influence peddling scheme with Elliott Broidy. Steve Wynn's lawyers telling "The Washington Post" tonight that Mr. Wynn is cooperating with investigators.
You might remember that both Steve Wynn and Elliott Broidy had to give up their senior roles in the Republican Party not long after they were named to those senior jobs. Mr. Wynn had to give it up because of the huge sexual harassment scandal that also removed him as president of his casino company. Elliott Broidy had to be removed from his post at the RNC, he stepped down from that post after he admitted that just like President Trump, lawyer Michael Cohen had also said him up in an expensive hush money deal in which he apparently paid a whole bunch of money to a woman in order to keep her quiet about an affair with him.
They apparently used the same template and the same fake names as were set up for the hush money deals that Cohen did for President Trump. All the best people. All of them.
Since the Trump inaugural, I will say, the reports, the public reporting about this guy, Elliott Broidy, have actually been a little bit hard to keep up with. There have been so many of them and they have been so disparate. I mean, just putting aside the hush money deal, which is astonishing for all the wrong reasons. We have seen reports over the past months of Elliott Broidy being investigated for using his role in the Trump inaugural and his connections to the Trump administration to advance alleged illegal foreign influence schemes involving the government of Malaysia and the government of China and the United Arab Emirates and Romania and Angola, and, and, and.
If any of those have stuck out for you over the past few months and years, it might have been the United Arab Emirates reporting about Broidy. That has stuck out over time because his apparent intermediary in the Middle East, his apparent intermediary with the emirates in particular was this guy, George Nader, who you see here standing with the president. George Nader, a Trump campaign gadfly, a man who set up meeting for the upper echelons of the transition including meetings in Trump Tower. George Nader is now in federal prison on serious and almost indescribably disgusting child pornography charges.
But he is one of the key people who Elliott Broidy was allegedly working with on this alleged illegal scheme to sell foreign access to the Trump inaugural and his Trump administration contacts. All the best people. All of them.
Now, we, of course, don't know for sure if Elliott Broidy is going to be charged after all of these months and, indeed, years of reports of him being under federal investigation. "Washington Post," again, is reporting on their front page tonight that he is about to be indicted.
One other thing to watch here. I can tell you that Elliott Broidy's previous lawyer had given reporters an on the record statement that Broidy had never met with president Trump himself as part of any of these alleged illegal influence schemes for which he's now reportedly facing indictment. That's what had been the on the record statement from Broidy's lawyer in the past.
But that lawyer who gave that on the record statement saying the president wasn't involved in any of this, that lawyer no longer represents Elliott Broidy. His current representation is making no such claims and the charging documents filed in conjunction with his guilty plea that just happened yesterday, Broidy's alleged accomplice in these crimes, those documents say explicitly that President Trump was involved in this scheme. That Elliott Broidy did meet with president Trump directly on this stuff.
So that's -- per "The Washington Post," that is coming, that is coming down the pike. Eyes open, right? With -- with William Barr at the helm of the Justice Department right now and with us less than 65 days out from the election, frankly, anything could happen, but that indictment, that federal indictment is reportedly imminent.
At the same time, though, this has also just happened. This book, which is just out today. It's -- I'll tell you it's the latest in a string of four or five books coming out this week and next week, which are to say the least highly anticipated. We talked with Michael Schmidt about his book, "The United States Versus Donald Trump," out last night.
This book is quite a different angle, but also make a ton of news. It's out today. It's titled "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady." It's written by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
For a first lady who is the subject of public fascination and interest as any other, this book is going to have a lot of stuff about first lady Melania Trump that people will be very interested in. Everything from why the first lady wore that jacket that said "I don't really care, do you?", when she went to the U.S.-Mexico border to go visit shelters holding little kids.
If you want to know what was going on there and why she wore that jacket, it's in this book. Also, that weird moment at the 2016 -- excuse me, the 2017 inaugural where the first lady dramatically wiped that smile off her face and scowled as soon as the president turned around. That is explained in this new book from Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
Ms. Wolkoff also tells the story about how she and the first lady launched what they called "Operation Block Ivanka," specifically to try to keep the president's eldest daughter Ivanka out of the iconic imagery of the president being sworn in on inauguration day. They called it "Operation Block Ivanka," and the whole plan was to make sure that Ivanka wasn't in this picture. Mission accomplished.
If you're interested in that kind of thing, this book will also shed some light, perhaps, on this sort of insane moment from the Republican National Convention this week. This moment between the first lady and the president and Ivanka, the president's eldest daughter, on stage at the White House at the RNC last week. This moment, which is transfixing, I will admit, has been viewed tens of millions of times on twitter since it happened. This book may give you some insight into what was behind that look.
This is also the book for you if you want to know why the first lady's signature anti-bullying campaign is called "Be Best". Why "Be Best?" What does that mean? Why not "be the best" or "be your best"? What does "Be Best" mean? And isn't it sort of nonsensical in English. Pages 266 and 267 have your answer for that.
You can also learn, for example, how it is that the first lady's sister, Ines, got herself a U.S. visa that's reserved for people with extraordinary abilities to the benefit of the United States. How did she get that visa? That's in here, too.
If you are one of the many people who wondered if there was some kind of coded message prom First Lady Melania Trump when she wore a suffragette special white pant suit to the State of the Union that year, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's book is here to report what exactly the first lady meant by wearing that and if it had a specific political message.
Ms. Wolkoff also reports that First Lady Melania Trump also insisted that a brand-new toilet be installed in the White House for her use before she would even consider moving in. It had to be a new toilet, not one that had been used by anybody else, including any previous first lady. OK? If you want to know, that's there.
I will also tell you, there's a long sort of disturbing quote in the book, what is allegedly a direct quote of the first lady talking about kids being ripped way from their parents at the border. We're going to talk about that in a few minutes. If it is actually what the first lady said about those kids, if it's a verbatim quote, that, I think, will end up being a pretty significant scandal in its own right. Again, we will get to that in just a moment when we are joined live here by Ms. Wolkoff.
But you should know big picture that the plot of this book overall is, you know, the story that's in the title, "Melania and Me". It is the story of what First Lady Melania Trump is like as a friend and why her best friend, Ms. Wolkoff, now says she regrets the entire friendship. She says it in terms that stark in black and white on page 311. She says, quote, in fact, I wish I had never met her. And so that -- that human drama is there and that relationship drama is there.
And first ladies, all of them, are objects of public fascination. Mrs. Trump included. There will be lots here in this book for people who have that fascination or who want to know more about her, including the various controversies from her tenures as first lady. I get that. We will talk about that with Ms. Wolkoff about that in just a moment.
But if you have watched this show over the past couple of years and if you know how my brain works and how my news sense works, you might at this point be surprised at this point I want to feature this book, but it's because of something else entirely that is in this book that is nowhere else. What I'm really interested in here is that this book is the first explanation anytime length that we have ever had at what went so haywire in the Trump inauguration, which is newly relevant, given that one of the major figures in the Trump inauguration is reportedly about to be indicted. It's newly relevant because within five months we're going to have another inauguration. If it's another Trump one like the last one, we should probably have some legal aide lawyers on standby.
It's also alive and relevant right now because multiple prosecutors' offices have apparently opened cases right now related to alleged criminal financial wrongdoing having to do with the Trump campaign in 2017. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was intimately involved in planning that inauguration, and in this book, she explains that she is cooperating with three different prosecutors' offices on three different open cases related to the Trump inaugural right now.
And you remember the basic issue here, right? We covered this extensively, perhaps more than any other national news outlet. The Obama inauguration after he was elected in 2008, that was for lots of reasons the largest ever presidential inauguration in U.S. history. They raised the most money for that as well, more than $50 million. That was a huge sum. No inaugural had ever been that big or that expensive, but it was the biggest ever.
The Trump inauguration after he was elected in 2016 was not on the same scale, not by a long shot. It was just smaller. It was -- it was inevitability going to be smaller and there were fewer events. Even the performances were just on a smaller scale and for smaller numbers of people.
I mean, instead of, like, you know, Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce in 2009, they had, like, piano guys and deejay Ravi Drums. No offense, but, you know, not the same type of thing.
It's fine. It's fine. I don't say that to cast aspersions, but the much smaller Trump inauguration with fewer events, with much smaller crowds, and with events that were all at sort of a lower register, there's just no way that it cost more than double what the Obama inaugural cost in 2009. There's no way it was more than twice as expensive as the most expensive inauguration in history.
But that's what they have said about it. I mean, Obama raised and spent $50 million something in 2009. Trump's inaugural raised over $107 million. And nobody knows what they spent it on. Nobody has ever been able to say where exactly all that money went because it does not have seemed to have gone into just paying for that event.
And when you look at who was in charge of the financials, maybe in retrospect, it shouldn't be all that surprising that there seems to be a little bit of a financial black box there. I mean, the treasurer of the Trump inaugural is someone who was named as an unindicted coconspirator in a major tax fraud case on Wall Street. The vice chair of fund-raising for the inauguration was the aforementioned Elliott Broidy who "The Washington Post" reports tonight is about to be indicted on federal influence peddling charges.
The deputy chairman of the inaugural committee was Rick Gates, who pled guilty to multiple felonies and became a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. You might remember him admitting in open court under oath that it's possible he did steal some of the Trump inaugural money when he was the deputy chairman of it. Tom Barrack was the inaugural chairman. Mr. Barrack has also reportedly been looked at by federal investigates on peddling charges, although I should say that he has not been charged.
But with what looks in retrospect like this rogue's gallery running the inaugural, running particularly the financial side of the inaugural, when it came to people trying to track down what appears to be tens of millions of dollars missing from the inaugural's balance sheet, somehow all of the public blame was directed at none of those guys. All of the public blame was instead directed at Melania Trump's friend, Stephanie. Not on any of those guys with their deeply checkered backgrounds who had actually handled all the money.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was friends with Melania Trump for years. She had organized the Met Gala in New York and fashion week events in New York. She was an experienced event planner at the highest levels.
She did form a company that did work on the inaugural after being asked to do so by Mrs. Trump. Her company that she formed for the inaugural was paid $26 million-ish, but she says that $25 million of that ish was money that she passed on to other companies that handled the broadcast production for some of the inauguration's major events. Nevertheless, she got headlines like that one. And she got all the public blame.
And the question remains, where is all the money anyway?
Let me read you something from her book. The inaugural committee's budget director Heather Martin reported that the inaugural committee had filed several filing extensions, which had delayed releasing the committee's public public-facing tax form, form 990, for nearly a year. Heather stated her mission in bringing us all together. We want to be prepared to mitigate any negative press that form 990 may create for the first lady, she said.
Ms. Winston Wolkoff says, quote, I was on the edge of my chair with anticipation. I had known this day would come, but why was this about Melania? Heather walked us through the inaugural committee's year-long process of preparing the form 990. She told us she'd be working with Tom Barrack, with treasurer Douglas Ammerman, the unindicted coconspirator guy, and also Rick Gates on the preparation of this tax form.
Despite Rick Gates' indictment, he was still involved in the filing of the 990 form. My spidey senses were going full tilt. I was practically a tarantula now.
Heather explained, it's taking longer than expected. I asked why. Apparently, Tom Barrack and Douglas Ammerman were having a tough time preparing the form because the actual numbers didn't add up. That set off a sudden headache for me. The numbers were the numbers. Why didn't they add up?
Ultimately, about a year after the inaugural, after some public scrutiny about how they could have possibly spent all of that money that they said they raise, the inaugural did file this public-facing document, the form 990, the tax form, and, in fact, its numbers don't add up. In terms of what they released publicly, there's, like, $40 million that they just don't account for, that just don't appear on the balance sheet.
And sure enough, as I mentioned, it's the first lady's friend, Ms. Winston Wolkoff, who gets blamed in the press and subsequently she gets basically disinvited from her ongoing White House job advising the first lady, a job that she had been doing anyway for free. Having been scapegoated for this, and having all the major questions about what happened with those tens of millions of dollars still unanswered, six months after she was thrown out on her ear, Ms. Wolkoff says she got a visit from Michael Cohen, from the president's lawyer, who days later would go on to plead guilty to multiple felonies.
He and Ms. Wolkoff knew each other. They had seen each other. Months earlier, he had dropped by her apartment to check in on her when the whole inaugural scandal thing was melting down in early 2018. Then he checked back in with her six months later in August.
And this is -- this is remarkable. Check this out.
On August 18th, 2018, Michael Cohen called me. Hello, Steph, he said. The FBI and SDNY have the recording I made of our conversation.
What are you talking about? I asked. A recording of what. Michael said, I recorded our conversation to use for contemporaneous notes. I was stunned.
He continued. You need to have your lawyer get in touch with my lawyer to talk about whether the conversation is privileged or not. Privileged, I asked? What do you mean? Which conversation?
He replied, the one where you were crying. Wait a second, I needed to digest what Michael had just told me. He had a recording of our conversation, the tape that was seized in the FBI raid? When did he tape me? He came to my house that one time he was wearing a trench coat -- oh, my God, if that tape went public. Michael, why the "F" did you tape our conversation? I asked, beside myself, I had asked Michael for his legal opinion, not to record our conversation without telling me.
He explained, I couldn't sit down with a notepad. I wanted to make a memo in order to strategize in order to exonerate you and clear your name. They destroyed you for no F-ing reason at all, other than someone else took a lot of money and buried it in their pockets and you had to be the fall guy. The same way I'm the fall guy for Donald getting his bleep licked by a porn star. Sorry.
He continued, I wanted to help Donald so Melania wouldn't kill him. For what? I'm being turned upside down. I didn't tape you for a gotcha, so we could create a memo and get your name cleared and let those who did wrong suffer. It shouldn't be you. The fact that you're crying really bothered. The Trumps are not crying and you are.
I said, they'll get away with it. He said, what they did on the inauguration was criminal. When I saw your binders, meaning the binders of receipts and communications and paperwork and documents Stephanie saved from her time working on the inaugural, when I saw your binders, Cohen says, I said to myself, this is not someone who is doing something wrong, the level of precision, it's beyond anal. I'm super anal. You're beyond. I laughed.
Michael Cohen warned me because of what I said on our recording I might be called to testify in the investigation. Which investigation, I asked. Take your pick, he said. They might subpoena your binders.
There has to be an end to all of the B.S. Everyone can't be a fall guy for their malfeasance and corruption. Donald is the worst version of himself I've ever seen.
Coming from Michael, who had worked for Trump for over a decade, that was saying a lot. I broke into a cold sweat at the thought of being involved in an investigation. He said, you should take solace in knowing that if the FBI or the Southern District really thought you stole money from the inauguration, you would have gotten a phone call.
Michael said, I asked people for money every day for the inauguration. Friends of mine. And for what? So they can walk away with $80 million? It's disgusting. Wolkoff says, quote, I actually had to leave the house to go to my lawyer's office to listen to the Cohen recording. We sat in his office with a couple of other associates to listen to it.
She then says how embarrassed she is there are a lot of swear words in the tape. She says, quote, the lawyers heard Melania's and my nicknames for some of the biggest players like Dopey and Tuberculosis. She doesn't explain who Dopey and Tuberculosis are. I'm going to ask her.
She says, quote, I wanted nothing more in the whole wide world than the human right of being allowed to defend myself against the false acquisitions that have tarred my name and reputation. But I was muzzled by an ironclad non-disclosure agreement. The contents of the tape were not made public. I was not allowed to comment on it in the press or discuss it.
As Michael had predicted, the recording did catch the attention of some interested parties in the media and law enforcement, and one excerpt with me complaining about the Trumps charging way too much for a Trump Hotel venue did surface.
Melania and I were in loose touch in September. The summer went too fast, Melania texted me on September 5th. Wishing you a successful year.
On September 12th, she wrote, hope you're well. I guess you were at Fashion Week.
Did she seriously think I was going to Fashion Week? I was barely functioning. I wrote back, no fashion week for me. I'm dealing with back and school and doctors and paperwork.
The paperwork in question was me collating and compiling a complete record of every email, text and phone log from the day I joined the inaugural committee until now. I was compiling it for the U.S. district court for the Southern District of New York. I told Melania, quote: I'm always thinking of you, my dear sweet friend. I miss you.
On October 2nd, 2018, I received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. attorney's office for the southern district of New York. I also received a sealed order issued by the U.S. district court for the Southern District that prohibited me from disclosing, among other things, the fact of my subpoena for 180 days. I couldn't breathe a word to anyone for months because this had to be kept confidential from the inaugural committee and from the White House.
The investigations were under way. And they couldn't know. I wasn't allowed to tell anyone, and that included Melania.
On December 13th, 2018, the news came out that Manhattan federal prosecutors had opened a criminal probe into the inauguration spending, and into whether some of the committee's top donors had traded cash for access to the Trump administration. The accounting didn't delineate where and how the donations had come in. Investigators were looking into whether extravagant donation packages offered face time with officials, and if selling access explained the Trump inauguration's record-shattering $107 million cost, $50 million more than any other inaugural ever.
She says, quote, my second subpoena came from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The third subpoena came from the District of Columbia. I cooperated fully with both. These investigations are still underway.
On January 22nd, 2020, the D.C. attorney general's office filed suit against the inaugural committee and the Trump international hotel. The charge was misuse of nonprofit funds which they'd use to pay outrageous fees to the family's own business. D.C.'s Attorney General Karl Racine stated: District law requires nonprofit to use their funds for the stated public purpose, not to benefit private individuals or companies.
The suit cited emails between me and Rick Gates. The details are stomach-churning. The hotel wanted to charge the inaugural committee $3.6 million for event space, food and drinks over eight days. The inaugural events only spanned four days. The amount of $450,000 per day was, quote, significantly more than the Trump hotel's internal pricing guidelines for use of this event space, per the lawsuit.
The Trump Organization called the lawsuit a PR stunt and vigorously denied any wrongdoing. There was no comment publicly from team Tom Barrack, but Stephanie Wolkoff -- Stephanie Winston Wolkoff writes in her new book, quote, I can say now my official comment is, you go D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
She says, quote, I wish I could say cooperating with three different investigations is empowering. It isn't. It keeps me involved in something I want to have nothing to do with. My family would love for me to wake up one morning and say, I'm over it, time to move on. So would I, which is why I had to write this book.
I know there's a lot of personal stuff in here about the first lady and that important relationship with her best friend. But this stuff about the inaugural is red-hot and live.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff joins us live next.
MADDOW: This is from page 111 of Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's new book, "Melania and Me", 35 days before the inaugural.
She says: Back in New York, I attended a meeting with President-elect Trump in his office. The space was packed with boxes, trinkets and piles of paper. I thought I was a hoarder. His office looked like a garage sale.
Stephanie, Donald said, tell me what's going on with the inauguration planning. Ivanka joined Donald and me for the meeting. I presented to the two of them. I grabbed my binder, went over to Donald's side of the desk and sat with my knees on the floor. He sat in his red leather chair, leaning back, clasping his hands, ready for me to proceed. Ivanka hovered over me.
I went through hundreds of pages covering all 18 events. Ivanka made comments and asked questions, will there we a red carpet. Where do we walk during the parade? What about seating at the swearing-in? After-party?
After the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, Donald said, quote, I don't want floats. I said, okay. The president continued, quote, I want tanks and choppers. Make it look like North Korea.
There was no way. He really wanted goose-stepping troops and armored tanks. That would break tradition and terrify half the country. When Ivanka heard North Korea, she didn't bat an eye.
I walked out of the meeting ruffled and worried. I texted a close friend and colleague, quote, North Korea-style military parade, bad idea?
That's just one of the anecdotes written in the new book by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former friend and adviser to First Lady Melania Trump. Ms. Wolkoff, of course, also played a key role in organizing the Trump inauguration in 2017 that has led to so much consternation and so much legal trouble ever since.
She has written the most detailed account of all of this in her new book which is called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady."
Joining us now for of the interview is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.
Ms. Wolkoff, I really appreciate the trust it takes to be here. I know you could be anywhere talking about this. Thank you for being here.
STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": Thank you for having me, Rachel. Really. I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.
MADDOW: Well, it's nice of you to say that.
Obviously, there's -- there's a lot here. There's a lot that's very raw here, particularly about distress about the -- the dissolution of your friendship with the first lady, the circumstances under which you left the White House. I want to talk first of all, though, about some of you what you describe about the inaugural, which has never really been publicly described by anybody involved in it before.
You're pretty frank about the idea that there's a lot of missing money, unaccounted for money in terms of what was raised for the inaugural versus what was spent.
Do you feel like you have a general grasp of how much money that might be? And do you have a theory or any knowledge of where it might have gone?
WOLKOFF: Well, do know that at the time that I questioned where the money was going or how much everything cost, I was asked to not attend any more budget meetings. So it took me a few years to figure everything out. But it's just, you know, people need to just follow the money.
MADDOW: In terms of who is following the money, it's remarkable that you describe the difficulty and the decision that you made to cooperate with these multiple ongoing investigations, including the D.C. attorney general, and having received a subpoena from Southern District of New York.
I know that those are ongoing proceedings and you're limited in what you can say, but do you feel like the people who are investigating this at various levels know what happened to the money? Do you feel like the investigations are on the right track in terms of them figuring out what happened to these tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars?
WOLKOFF: Rachel, unfortunately, with our Justice Department right now, I don't really know entirely what's going on with some of these investigations. And that's a really sad and challenging place to be, especially since this election's right around the corner.
I do know that Attorney General Karl Racine is still investigating, it's still open. But as far as the Southern District, I don't know where that stands, as well as the Intelligence Committee.
MADDOW: Have you been -- has the White House contacted you since your book was on track to publish and since people started to realize what was going in -- going to be in this book? Has either the Justice Department or the White House, anybody else in the Trump administration, contacted you?
WOLKOFF: I've actually been contacted by both, the White House and the Justice Department.
MADDOW: Can you tell us anything either of those communications, starting with the White House, in terms of what they -- what they wanted to communicate to you or what they asked of you?
WOLKOFF: A couple months ago, there was -- I had a cease-and-desist as well as, you know, again, last thing that any of these people want is for the truth to be told. I have lived with this on my shoulders for the last several years, trying to make sense of it all, trying to understand what happened while I was working at the inauguration, but also what happened while the pressure was building and mounting around the -- you know, the 990 and the releasing of where $107 million was spent.
This is, you know, it's like Donald Trump -- you know, his best game, three-card monty, right? It's like everything is a shell and everything's going in different directions. Chaos is just part of the game.
And as you said earlier, and I love it, you know, only the best. And it's quite a bit of -- quite a bit of the best.
MADDOW: You describe in the book how --
MADDOW: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Please carry on.
WOLKOFF: No, no, I apologize.
MADDOW: This delay is very awkward. The satellite delay is made all the worse by the COVID-driven gremlins in terms of remote studios. That was my fault, I'm sorry.
Let me just ask you, first of all, go back and say whatever you wanted to finish in terms of your thought there and I'll just ask another question, which is, if the White House was telling the truth when they put out public statements denying that First Lady Melania Trump and the president had no role in planning the inaugural and that the -- when the White House -- when the White House said they didn't know about any concerns about budgeting or how much things would cost or how things would be carried out during the inaugural, your book would seem to give lie to those statements and made clear that -- when the White House said those things, that those weren't accurate.
WOLKOFF: The machine of the false narrative that gets created by the White House is so overwhelming and so powerful, and the fact that people really believe -- when you look around of the people who were actually involved in planning the inauguration, that they're going to pin it on me because I was Melania's friend. It worked, right? It's a shiny object, right in the corner. Melania's friend, the only person willing to help her.
And, you know, that spotlight shone right on me without even calling me and asking me if it was the truth. So, my integrity, my reputation, everything was destroyed in a matter of seconds. And it was if nobody big deal. Just flick it off and move on. But I wasn't prepared to do that. But I didn't --
MADDOW: Having --
MADDOW: Having the opportunity to tell your side of the story and to explain what happened during the inaugural, to explain even what you could tell was hatching with the financials in the inaugural and being able to put it in this book, does it make you feel -- not -- I guess not protected in any way, but at least does it make you feel like you're in a stronger position because at least now you can articulate what you saw, where you came from and what your side of it?
It feels like a lot of the frustration that led to this book is the feeling that you weren't allowed to defend yourself.
WOLKOFF: And I'm still relying on First -- you know, First Amendment counsel. I'm still not allowed to say everything.
So I am saying as much as I can within the law. I think that being muzzled with an NDA for all of these years has been claustrophobic to say the least. I mean, I stopped live a regular life. I have three incredible children, a husband. I've really sort of locked myself in.
And it's amazing to me, you know, that I'm part of three different investigations, yet I'm a witness to all of them. And it really is a charade of shenanigans, and I feel that the Trump presidency is just fleecing our country. And I had no choice but to not tell the story. I had to be here.
And do I feel protected? I actually do feel more protected because now everyone knows the truth and I've been able to share my life story with what happened because it took over my life. And my -- you know, it's complicated.
MADDOW: It is complicated. If you don't mind staying with us while we take one quick break, there's one other element of your book that struck me, a long quote that you attribute to the first lady, that I think is potentially a really important news story. I'd just like to ask you about that specific part of your book if you can hold on for us for one more minute.
WOLKOFF: Absolutely. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her book is out today. It's called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady".
We'll be right back.
MADDOW: One of the indelible images we have of Melania Trump's time as first lady was the day when she boarded a plane to go visit immigrant kids who'd been separated from their kids at the Texas border and she wore this green jacket that said on the back, "I really don't care, do you?"
After that visit, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in her new book recalls what she says was a 70-minute phone call she says she had with the first lady about that trip to the border, and I just want to read you from that part of the book.
Ms. Winston Wolkoff says, quoting the first lady here: They all went crazy about the zero tolerance policy at the border. But they don't know what's going on. The kids I met were brought in by the coyotes, the bad people who were trafficking and that's why the kids were put in shelters.
They're not with their parents and it's sad. But the patrols told me the kids said, "Wow, I get a bed. I will have a cabinet for my clothes." It's more they have in their own country where they sleep on the floor. They are taken care nicely there.
And the mothers, they teach their kids to say, "I'm going to be killed by gangs" so they're allowed to stay. They're using that line and it's not true.
Reading that quote from the first lady aloud is a gut punch all of its own, but Stephanie Winston Wolkoff quotes this directly and says these are the words of the first lady.
Back with us once more for the interview is Stephanie Wolkoff. She's a former senior adviser to First Lady Melania Trump. Her new book is called "Melania and Me." It's about her friendship with the first lady and her involvement in the Trump inauguration.
Ms. Winston Wolkoff, thanks again for being here. I just have to ask you if -- should we understand this to be a verbatim -- verbatim quote from the first lady? These are seemingly pretty insensitive comments she made about the kids she met at the border.
WOLKOFF: Rachel, there's no way to fabricate any of my story. And the only way to tell the story is to say it exactly as it was. The fact that the White House is trying to disparage me and claim my character is anything but what I know -- again, I'm a respectful person. It's only going to have me discuss more and more the truth, the facts, and they're all either in some type of, you know, a semblance that has 100 percent backing. I would never do that otherwise.
MADDOW: There's been some reporting -- public sourced reporting around your book that says that part of the way that you can back up some of these verbatim quotes and some of these extensive detailed anecdotes is that you do have some recordings of some of these conversations. Can you comment on that at all?
WOLKOFF: So, Rachel, I -- I haven't commented on the past. And one of the reasons why I'm going to share this with you this evening is because I've been accused of taping my friend, as the White House said, and how horrible of a human being I am for doing that.
And they're right. If I -- if she was my friend, I would be horrible. But Melania and the White House have accused me of criminal activity, had publicly shamed and fired me and made me their scapegoat.
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 and she told me herself that is -- this is the way it has to be.
She was advised by the attorneys at the White House that there was no other choice because there was a possible investigation into the presidential inauguration committee. And that's not how you treat a friend.
So I was going to do anything in my power to make sure that I was protected. And at first, I really did think maybe she would come to my aid. Maybe she would tell the truth.
She turned her back. She did. She folded like a deck of cards and I was shocked when she did it.
MADDOW: Are you saying, Ms. Wolkoff, that at that point, you decided in order to protect yourself that you -- that you would make recordings of some of your conversations with the first lady or that you did?
WOLKOFF: I did, Rachel. I did. And it's a -- again, you had to admit it's -- it is disgraceful in any other context, but who would believe any of this otherwise? You can't make this up. But, again, I need the evidence. I needed the evidence. So (ph) --
MADDOW: If the White House continues to call you a liar and say that you have made up these conversations, and that these things you are attributing to the first lady or the president are things that didn't happen, do you have plans to release those tapes to the public or to show them -- play them for reporters so that other people can validate what you're saying?
WOLKOFF: There is a report coming out. Again, full disclosure, I'm not going to lie about it, I just can't, Rachel, so I'm going to tell you. I -- I had admitted, there is a report coming out that I -- I did play it privately, because of -- to justify that I actually did have it and what it did say in her own voice.
Again, the more they continue to come after me, and, again, the more they continue to lie about what they've said, done and do, the more I will continue to, you know, prove them -- prove their claims false. The last thing they should be doing is coming after me.
I wanted to write this book and move on. I didn't actually even expect them to say -- I mean, of course, they're going to -- I expected them to say, oh, she's this and she's that. But they have gone on way too long and I'm not going to let them take my integrity away anymore.
MADDOW: Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former senior adviser to First Lady Melania Trump, key figure in the Trump inaugural. The new book is called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with First Lady" -- Ms. Wolkoff, I know this is hard stuff to talk about, and I know this book was hard to -- hard to -- it's hard to write, I know because I read every word of it. I was very moved by your take on it.
Thanks for the trust for being here tonight and good luck to you. Come back any time. We'd be happy to have you here any time you want to talk.
WOLKOFF: Thank you. I'm honored. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We got more ahead here tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Winston Wolkoff book out today about which there's also apparently some tapes that we're going to get. Michael Schmidt's book, which is out today as well. There's a couple more books coming out in the next week that are going to blow your mind in terms of news volume, as well. 'Tis the season.
But last night here on the show when we had Michael Schmidt here, we told you about an unscheduled and unexplained trip that the president made to Walter Reed Medical Center late last year in November.
Schmidt says in his book, quote: In the hours leading up to Trump's trip to the hospital, word went out in the West Wing for the vice president to be on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily if Trump had to go undergo a procedure that would have required him to be anesthetized.
The White House has tried to pass this off as part of his normal physical. To put it mildly, you don't have to be anesthetized for any part of your physical.
So we have that from Mike Schmidt's book as of last night. Until just after 11:00 Eastern Time this morning, when the president said this on Twitter out of the blue. He just wanted everybody to know he had never suffered a series of mini strokes. Never happened.
Now, nobody said stroke. Why are you worried that people think you had a stroke? The president then got the -- his doctor at the White House to release a statement repeating the same thing, that he had never had a mini stroke or a stroke.
And nobody reported that. Michael Schmidt did not report that, no media outlet reported that. The White House didn't give any further details.
But this Walter Reed trip now is even more intriguing than it was before. We know it was not planned because it was not on the president's schedule. We know that doctors at Walter Reed were not notified of the president's visit, as is customary for any routine trip.
We know that President Trump stayed at Walter Reed for a couple hours that way and didn't have another public event for three days. But, honestly, other than that, we know very little other than now the president is insistently and repeatedly tweeting that it definitely wasn't about him having a stroke. In his words today on Twitter, not mean a minor one.
OK. You're the one who brought that up. Keep an eye on this. Still many open questions here.
MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight. I'm sorry to be a few seconds into my neighbor's real estate here. But I'll see you again tomorrow night.
Now it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END
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