A spokesperson for first lady Melania Trump took an extraordinary step on Tuesday afternoon: publicly calling for the job of National Security Council staffer Mira Ricardel.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Mira Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” said spokesperson Stephanie Grisham in a statement sent to a number of media outlets.
Ricardel is the top deputy for National Security Adviser John Bolton and worked for the Trump administration during the transition. When Bolton selected her in April, the Washington Post described her as “a well-known Republican hawk” and a “tough bureaucratic player with a strong personality.”
Reports about Ricardel’s “strong personality” — or her conflicts with many figures in the administration, particularly the first lady — are now spilling into the press.
The fight with Melania Trump’s office that led to her public call for Ricardel’s job began, according to the Wall Street Journal, with “seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources” during Melania’s trip to Africa, and later escalated to accusations that Ricardel had planted negative stories in the press.
NBC called the first lady’s decision to go public with a demand for a top official’s job in public, rather than behind closed doors, “extraordinary, if not unprecedented.”
Who is Mira Ricardel?
Ricardel, whom the Post describes as a “Russia hawk,” served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe during the George W. Bush administration. Before joining the NSC, she had a leadership role on Trump’s transition team and later served in the Department of Commerce.
While the conflict with the first lady is getting the most attention, Ricardel has also clashed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis since Trump’s transition, according to an October report from the Washington Post. The publication, quoting “half a dozen current and former officials familiar with the situation,” suggested that Ricardel was “undermining Mattis” during her time at the NSC.
Reporting Tuesday by the Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez and Josh Dawsey suggested she’d made other enemies as well: According to current and former unnamed White House officials, they write, she “berated people in meetings, yelled at professional staff, argued with the first lady and spread rumors about Mattis.” Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly sided with Mattis and has long sought to oust Ricardel from her role with the NSC.
For a few hours after Melania Trump’s statement was released, it was unclear whether her husband would act on it. In fact, shortly after the statement went public, the president tweeted photos in which Ricardel, who has blond hair, can be seen standing near him at a White House event that took place earlier Tuesday.
Today, we gathered for Diwali, a holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States & around the world. Hundreds of millions of people have gathered with family & friends to light the Diya and to mark the beginning of a New Year. https://t.co/epHogpTY1A pic.twitter.com/9LUwnhngWJ— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2018
However, later Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that Trump has made the decision to fire Ricardel but is giving her some to clear out her desk before announcing it.
WH official: @POTUS has told advisers he’s made the decision to fire deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel — but she’s been given a bit of time to clear out desk. @FLOTUS publicly called for her firing earlier today.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 13, 2018
- @jeffzeleny & @Kevinliptakcnn report
Melania Trump has had multiple feuds in the administration
The first lady’s beef with Ricardel isn’t the only recent report of her clashing with administration officials.
In a piece headlined “After clashes with first lady and others, Kelly may soon exit White House,” NBC reports that Kelly “has also gotten on the wrong side of Melania Trump over staffing issues and travel requests. Some of the disputes with the East Wing have escalated to the president, the seven people familiar with the clashes said.”
NBC’s reporting, which cites two unnamed current White House officials, said the dispute centered in part on promotions for some of Melania Trump’s aides.
From NBC’s Carol E. Lee, Kristen Welker, Hallie Jackson, and Courtney Kube:
Having learned of the dispute, the president was furious and told Kelly to give the first lady, who has a smaller East Wing staff than her recent predecessors, what she wanted, these people said. “I don’t need this shit,” Trump told Kelly, according to one person familiar with the conversation.
Melania Trump, on the other hand, has sought to keep a low profile — until recently. In recent weeks, beyond the behind-the-scenes drama related to Kelly and Ricardel, she and her representatives have been picking fights in and with the press.
Melania Trump is not trying to make friends
Reports about Melania Trump’s multiple ongoing intra-administration feuds comes days after Grisham, her spokesperson, released a statement that could be read as a subtle rebuke to former first lady Michelle Obama.
During an interview with ABC that aired Sunday, Obama said that former first lady Laura Bush reached out to her during the transition period before her husband took office and said, “If you need any help, I’m a phone call away.” Obama claimed she made the same offer to Melania Trump but hasn’t heard from her.
The Washington Post reached out to Grisham for comment. Grisham responded with a statement characterizing Melania as “a strong and independent woman” who doesn’t need outside advice.
“Mrs. Trump is a strong and independent woman who has been navigating her role as First Lady in her own way. When she needs advice on any issue, she seeks it from her professional team within the White House,” Grisham’s statement says.
The first lady has more explicitly taken aim at the media. During an interview with ABC last month on the occasion of her Africa trip, the first lady said she wore a jacket with the phrase “I really don’t care, do u?” during a trip to visit migrant children who had been separated from their parents at the border as a result of her husband’s immigration policy “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.”
First lady Melania Trump tells @TomLlamasABC she wore the ‘I really don’t care’ jacket “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.” https://t.co/zhjoorfoIH pic.twitter.com/gI4cxCp9my— ABC News (@ABC) October 15, 2018
But her comments about the jacket’s hidden message for the press contradicted what her spokesperson told reporters about it at the time of her trip to the border in June.
“There was no hidden message,” Grisham said of the jacket at the time. “After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”