Rhona Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization, is one of the key people in Donald Trump’s inner circle, valued by the president for her loyalty.
Although she didn’t move to Washington D.C., Graff is considered a high-level player who carefully guards access to Trump and can pass messages to him.
Her name has surfaced in some of his highest-profile controversies – most recently in the Donald Trump Jr. email dump involving the president’s son’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer. It was Graff, a music publicist wrote in the Trump Jr. emails, who could get a message to Donald Trump about a meeting with a Russian lawyer whom Trump Jr. was told had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Specifically, Rob Goldstone wrote Trump Jr., “I can also send this info to your father via Rhona,” but he said he was sending it to Trump Jr. first. Trump Jr. has denied that his father knew about the meeting.
The New York Times reported that Graff is a “back channel to Trump,” and noted: “Trump can always count on Ms. Graff’s allegiance, and that has made Ms. Graff, from her office in Trump Tower, a major figure in the operations of the White House for a simple reason: She is believed to have a direct line to the president.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Rhona Graff Is Described as Trump’s ‘Gatekeeper’
Graff, as Trump’s executive assistant, has wielded power in the organization for decades.
Politico called her “the gatekeeper at Trump Tower for a quarter century.” The political site described how 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.”
“If I really wanted to whisper something in his ear, I would probably go to Rhona,” said New York grocery billionaire John Catsimatidis to Politico. Politico reported that some people believe Graff is the best way to get a message to Trump behind the backs of his White House Staff, such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
A 2004 article in Real Estate Weekly reported that Graff had already worked for Trump for 17 years at that point. It called her Rhona Graff-Riccio. The article reported that Graff was involved in Trump’s television show, The Apprentice, and it quoted her as saying, “It’s funny how life has a strange way of leading you on a path and you really don’t know where you are going to end up. Did I ever think I would be on a number one television show? Absolutely not. From what I understand, they will be using me a lot more in season two.”
Trump told Real Estate Weekly that he trusted Graff’s judgment. “She is bright, articulate, extremely efficient and has proven herself to be responsible and loyal on every level,” Trump said, according to the real estate publication.
2. One of Trump’s Accusers, Summer Zervos, Wrote Graff an Email
Graff also featured in one of the sexual abuse allegations lodged against Trump in the months before the presidential election. She received an email from Summer Zervos, one of Trump’s accusers and a former contestant on The Apprentice.
Trump’s campaign released the Zervos email to Graff as part of its effort to discredit Zervos’ allegations. The email released by the campaign on October 14 is dated April 14, 2016 and is addressed from Summer Zervos to Rhona Graff.
In it, Zervos writes, “I am in a unique situation being that I am the only former Apprentice who operates a business where Mr. Trump’s supporters can walk in, express their admiration for him and inquire about my experience.”
She continues, “Mr. Trump has a great deal of support in Huntington Beach, Cal. He has witnessed both my highs and lows operating a small business…we hire a diverse crew and embrace anyone who is honest while working hard. Mr. Trump is cut from the same cloth.”
The email concludes, “I would greatly appreciate reconnecting at this time… He will know my intentions are genuine.”
3. Graff Once Described Trump as ‘Brilliant’ & ‘Insightful’ & Was Married By New York’s Mayor
Commdiginews has described Graff as “current assistant and a senior vice president” for Trump who “has worked with Trump for more than 25 (years) and describes him as, ‘brilliant, insightful, funny, charismatic and surprisingly down to earth.’”
Real Estate Weekly reported that she still referred to Trump as “Mr. Trump.”
In 1993, Graff married Lucius Joseph Riccio, the Commissioner of Transportation for the City of New York. The New York Times wedding announcement says that the marriage was officiated by then New York Mayor David Dinkins. The wedding announcement reported that “Mrs. Graff Riccio is also a contributing writer to Inside Tennis magazine. She graduated from Queens College, from which she also received a master’s degree in education. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Graff of Fresh Meadows, Queens.”
According to The New York Times, Graff comes up in Trump’s book, The Art of the Comeback, in which he refers to her as “my very loyal secretary.” In 1991, Trump was facing financial problems, and it was up to Graff to tell him that “his estranged wife, Ivana, was on the phone with the message, as he put it in the book, ‘I vant my money now,'” the Times reported.
4. Graff Is Mentioned in the Donald Trump Jr. Email Dump & Once Worked in Sports Marketing
Donald Trump Jr. is under fire for taking a meeting with a Russian lawyer he was told by a music producer was a government lawyer who had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. In response, he dumped an email chain with the producer Rob Goldstone on Twitter. One of the emails mentions Graff. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his then campaign manager Paul Manafort were also at the meeting.
“I can also send this info to your father via Rhona,” Goldstone wrote. According to AP, this is “an apparent reference to the elder Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff.”
The full email from Goldstone reads, “Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin. What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly? I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.”
Trump Jr. responded in part, “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
According to Real Estate Weekly, Graff worked for “several years in sports marketing and was president of a sports marketing company. The job involved a lot of travel and, when her mother fell ill in the mid-eighties, she decided it was too much to juggle.”
In 1987, she was hired by Trump’s organization through an employment agency. “They said the only thing they had open was a secretarial position. I said I had never really been a secretary. I always had my own rolodex, my own appointment book. I am used to doing my own thing,” said Graff to Real Estate Weekly.
Graff said she decided to take the job because “he’s somebody I admire and have a huge amount of respect for and I think I can learn a lot from him,” Real Estate Weekly reported.
5. Graff Decided to Remain in New York Because She Has a Daughter In High School
According to Politico, Graff considered moving to Washington D.C. after Trump won the election but decided instead to stay in New York because she has a high school age daughter.
Graff “is a native New Yorker from Queens. She holds a master’s degree in education and psychology from Queens College and ran a sports marketing company before starting with the Trump Organization nearly 30 years ago, working for Trump’s previous assistant, Norma Foerderer,” reported Politico.