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Melania Trump parts ways with adviser amid backlash

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The first lady, Melania Trump, has parted ways with an adviser after news emerged about the adviser’s firm reaping US$26 million in payments to help plan US President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

[WASHINGTON] The first lady, Melania Trump, has parted ways with an adviser after news emerged about the adviser's firm reaping US$26 million in payments to help plan US President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Stephanie Wolkoff, who has been friends with Melania Trump for years, had been working on a contract basis as an unpaid senior adviser to the office of the first lady.

Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's spokeswoman, said the office had "severed the gratuitous services contract with Ms Wolkoff," who Ms Grisham said had been employed as "a special government employee" to work on specific projects. "We thank her for her hard work and wish her all the best."

The contract was terminated last week, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

They said the move was prompted by displeasure from the Trumps over the news, first reported by The New York Times, that a firm created by Ms Wolkoff was paid nearly US$26 million for event planning by a non-profit group that oversaw Donald Trump's inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017.

Mr Trump, who is notoriously tight with his money, was also enraged to learn that Ms Wolkoff brought on a close friend, David Monn, to help plan inaugural events, according to people who spoke to him. Mr Monn's firm was paid US$3.7 million, according to a tax filing by the non-profit group, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Ms Grisham said that the first lady "had no involvement" with the inaugural committee and that she "had no knowledge of how funds were spent".

Ms Wolkoff, in an email, defended her work on the inauguration, denounced news coverage of it and challenged the characterisation that her contract with Mrs Trump's office was terminated as a result of the news about payments from the inaugural committee.

"I was informed by the White House counsel's office that all gratuitous volunteer contracts were ended," she said.

She asserted that the development would not affect her relationship with mrs Trump, who attended Ms Wolkoff's 40th birthday party in 2010 and has travelled in the same circles for years.

"I expect to remain a trusted source for advice and support on an informal basis," she wrote.

In another email, Ms Wolkoff said, "I am proud of the work that we did to support the inauguration."

She said her firm, WIS Media Partners, spent the overwhelming majority of the money it was paid by the inaugural committee on services to subcontractors, including for satellite feeds to be provided to broadcasters worldwide.

The firm "retained a total of US$1.62 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.

She added that the firm, which had been created only weeks before the inauguration, "submitted all of our records fully audited to the inauguration committee nearly one full year ago in March 2017".

Ms Wolkoff said news coverage of her work was "completely unfair", but she did not specify any errors. But in a series of emails, she copied a lawyer from the New York-based law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and wrote, "There have been a number of unfair and untrue statements about me and I am reserving all rights."

Ms Wolkoff made her name planning society galas in New York, including the Costume Institute Gala, also known as the Met Gala, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Over the years, she worked closely on the gala with the Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Mr Monn also worked on the gala, which embodies an exclusive vibe that is in many ways incongruous with the messaging to blue-collar voters that Mr Trump projected during the 2016 presidential campaign.