In an extraordinary step for a first lady, Melania Trump called for the dismissal of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel. The mysterious feud seems to have an unlikely start.
WASHINGTON – Officials in the Donald Trump administration have now learned the lesson taught many of their predecessors.
Beware the power of the first lady.
Melania Trump basically forced out a top national security official this week, a reminder to many that first ladies wield a unique kind of power.
“It is really surprising to see that anybody at the White House would take on the first lady so directly,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush.
The White House announced Wednesday that deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel will be moved to another job, a day after Mrs. Trump took the extraordinary step of publicly calling for her removal.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” said the Tuesday statement from that office.
Previous first ladies have weighed in on policy and personnel – Nancy Reagan famously got rid of White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan back in 1987 – but they usually act behind the scenes, speaking with reporters on background.
Melania Trump’s public statement about Mira Ricardel appears to be unprecedented.
This even though the two have never met.
Most it stems from a dispute between Ricardel and Mrs. Trump’s staff over the first lady’s trip to Africa last month, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in recent days to discuss a sensitive issue that has left bruised feelings in both the West Wing and the East Wing.
Ricardel wanted seats aboard the first lady’s plane for her and an aide, officials said. Mrs. Trump’s staff said there was no room, and that aides from throughout the government had to been left off the manifest because of limited space.
When aides suggested that Ricardel and others fly ahead and meet Mrs. Trump in Africa, she reacted angrily (and did not make the trip).
Some officials accused Ricardel of leaking false stories and spreading rumors about the first lady’s spending habits, though other officials dispute that.
Officials did not dispute that other people, beyond the first lady’s office, have complained about what they consider to be Ricardel’s abrasive, yelling manner.
Defenders of Ricardel said she may be a tough administrator, but she is a top-notch planning and policy person who will serve the president well wherever she winds up. These officials said Mrs. Trump’s statement blindsided many people on Trump’s staff, and was unfair in general.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, who hired Ricardel in April, is in Asia this week, traveling with Vice President Pence. From a distance, he tried to save Ricardel’s job, but Trump opted to transfer her out and try to provide a smooth landing.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Ricardel “will continue to support the President as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the Administration.”
Sanders added that Trump “is grateful for Ms. Ricardel’s continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities.”
Asked in Asia about the Ricardel incident, Pence said he has “great respect for her and her role. I look forward to her new role in another part of the administration.”
The battle between Ricardel and Melania Trump’s staff is only the latest installment in first lady lore.
During the last administration, aides to Michelle Obama fought with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs over the handling of a disputed media report about Mrs. Obama supposedly telling French counterpart Carla Bruni that living in the White House was “hell.” (Mrs. Obama and Bruni said the comment was never made.)
Back in 1987, Nancy believed Chief of Staff Regan was out for himself, not the president.
The last straw for that first lady: The chief of staff hung up on her during an angry phone call. Regan, however, eventually got some revenge: He used his memoir to talk about how Mrs. Reagan used an astrologer to help set the president’s schedule.
McBride, executive-in-residence with the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said most White House employees know – or should know – the power and authority of first ladies.
If they didn’t, she said, “they certainly learned through this.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen
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