Rhona Graff, Donald Trump’s personal secretary who has long been considered the gatekeeper to the president, is the latest to be caught up in the growing investigation into Trump campaign involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Congressional investigators want to question Graff as part of the ongoing probe because her name was mentioned in an email chain that Donald Trump Jr. released showing how the controversial meeting with Russians connected to the Putin government came about, according to a report by ABC News.
In one of the emails, British publicist Rob Goldstone wrote, “I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.”
It remains unclear if Goldstone ever contacted Graff, who apparently has not yet actually heard from either the Senate or House intelligence committees, or Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, about testifying as to her knowledge of the issues under investigation.
“Since her name is in the email,” House Intelligence Committee member Representative Peter King (R-NY) told ABC News, “people will want her to answer questions. If you go to Trump Tower, you’re going to mention her name.”
Graff has not been accused of doing anything wrong but she is considered extremely close to the president.
“I think we should hear from every individual who is mentioned in Don Jr.’s email chain to understand what happened,” said Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA), another member of the House Intelligence Committee, as quoted by Vanity Fair’s Hive.
When she is called to testify under oath, Graff’s presence could open the door to a much wider look at all the areas in which she is involved, which includes being the key contact for many longtime Trump associates, Trump’s schedule, and even his electronic correspondence.
“Lawmakers interest in Graff is likely to infuriate Trump,” reports Vanity Fair’s Hive. “Last month, the president – who has continually dismissed the Russia investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ orchestrated by allies of Hillary Trump as an excuse for losing the election – said that special counsel Robert Mueller would be crossing a line if he began to investigate the Trump family, their finances, and the Trump Organization in a way that exceeded the initial scope of the Russia probe.”
There is no question Graff knows a great deal about the flailing president.
Trump doesn’t read or write emails. Graff receives them and the ones she thinks need his attention she prints out and put in front of him. He then scrawls notes on the ones to which he wants to respond, and Graff types up his notes and responds for him.
Although she is not an official government employee even now, Graff continues to be a key link to the president, working from her office in Trump Tower in New York City. Many of his longest standing friends and acquaintances still look to her to reach Trump.
“Since Trump took office in January,” Politico reported in March, “Graff has become a conduit for those who want to quietly offer advice, make personnel suggestions or get on the president’s calendar when he’s at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.”
Roger Stone, the controversial Republican strategist who was briefly involved with the Trump campaign, and apparently remains a Trump confidant, told Politico that Graff is the one to contact for “anyone who thinks the system in Washington will block their access.”
“If I wanted to get something to Trump without calling his cell phone,” said another confidant who goes through Graff to reach the president, “I’d send it to Rhona. Rhona is always going to be around.”
Graff, now a senior vice president of The Trump Organization, has worked for the president for the past 30 years. During the campaign, she coordinated Trump’s travel plans and personal schedule.
However, after the election, Graff chose to remain in New York, where she has a daughter in high school.
Now she passes her requests to Trump’s personal assistant in the White House, Madeline Westerhout, who Graff trained during the transition, according to Politico.
A White House spokesperson denied that Graff is still the key way people reach Trump, who is now under a legal obligation to archive all of his presidential and personal communications.
Associates of Trump told Politico they still prefer to go through Graff because it ensures the message will actually reach the president.
“She’s still a factor, that’s all I know,” Representative King told Politico.
It is not a surprise that Trump does things even his own White House staff doesn’t know about, but it does raise questions about whether all of that interaction is being properly documented as federal law requires.
It is also likely Trump will be unhappy when Graff is called to testify and is asked questions that go beyond just the Russia probe into how he operates, who he talks to and a list of his appointments and visitors, which he has refused to provide to reporters up until now (unlike President Obama who was much more transparent).
Trump may call the probes “a witch hunt” but they are moving forward, and there is ever more evidence that it is a valuable and important exercise in trying to understand how Trump won, how he operates, and who he really is in touch with regularly.
It was then President Richard Nixon’s secretary Rosemary Woods who became caught up in the Watergate scandal and investigation after she was accused of erasing a portion of a White House tape recording.
It is not far fetched to think Graff will know a lot about Trump that investigators will find of interest. She doesn’t have to erase a tape to be an extremely important on the record source.
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