Melania Trump has axed a senior adviser after news broke that the adviser’s company invoiced the White House for $33 million to help plan Donald Trump’s inauguration.
According to The New York Times, which first reported the story, Mrs Trump cut ties with longstanding friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. She had been working on a contract basis as a “special government employee” to the office of the first lady.
The newspaper reported that the “notoriously tight” Mr Trump “was enraged” by the $33 million bill.
Stephanie Grisham, Mrs Trump’s spokeswoman, said the office “had severed the gratuitous service contract” with Ms Winston Wolkoff, 47.
“We thank her for her hard work and wish her all the best,” Ms Grisham said.
Ms Winston Wolkoff – the planner behind the Met Ball – was Mrs Trump’s first hire in the White House as senior adviser, the Washington Post reported in January 2017.
The First Lady, 47, was a guest at Ms Winston Wolkoff’s 40th birthday party and the two women were close enough to meet for lunch every month, according to a New York Times profile.
A mother of three who is married to a real estate developer and has been called “immaculate” by Anna Wintour, Ms Winston Wolkoff made her name planning New York society galas.
The former Vogue staffer used her connections at Ralph Lauren and Reem Acra to put together Mrs Trump’s inauguration wardrobe.
But she drew criticism for having a government-issued phone, computer, and badge granting her access to the West Wing.
Her contract was terminated last week, reported The New York Times, saying the move came after displeasure from the Trumps over the bill and its public reveal.
A firm created by Ms Winston Wolkoff charged the $33 million for event planning by a non-profit group overseeing Mr Trump’s inauguration and related events such as dinners and balls in January 2017.
Wealthy donors and corporations donated a record $107 million to the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, which promised events would be “workmanlike”.
It was reported two weeks ago that Mrs Winston Wolkoff’s firm WIS Media Partners spent twice as much money as was spent on Barack Obama’s inauguration, despite drawing fewer people.
Mrs Trump “had no involvement” with the inaugural committee and “no knowledge of how funds were spent”, said Ms. Grisham.
Firing back in an email, Ms. Winston Wolkoff said she was “proud of the work that we did to support the inauguration”.
She said her friendship with Mrs Trump would not be affected:
“I expect to remain a trusted source for advice and support on an informal basis.”
Ms Winston Wolkoff said WIS Media Partners (which was incorporated six weeks before the inauguration), spent most of the money it received on services to subcontractors.
Her firm’s brief reportedly included securing venues and table settings to arranging Instagram filters and satellite feeds.
It retained $2 million “for all of its consulting and creative services, which was divided among our staff of 15 members (including myself),” she said in the email.
Adding to Mr Trump’s fury was that Ms. Winston Wolkoff brought on an associate, David Monn, to help plan inaugural events.
According to a tax filing by the inaugural committee, Mr Monn’s firm was paid $4.75 million primarily to plan two events, one of which was billed as a “candlelight dinner” attended by Mr and Mrs Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.