First lady Melania Trump demanded the ouster of National Security Adviser John Bolton’s top deputy, Mira Ricardel, on Tuesday as reports swirled about an imminent shakeup of President Donald Trump’s administration.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement in response to a question about reports the first lady had sought Ricardel’s removal.
Ricardel, Bolton’s top deputy, clashed with the first lady’s staff after threatening to withhold National Security Council resources during Melania Trump’s trip to Africa last month unless Ricardel or another NSC official was included in her entourage, one person familiar with the matter said.
It’s exceedingly rare for first ladies to intervene in West Wing staffing decisions, but when they do the clashes usually turn out badly for the aides involved. In what was probably the highest-profile such incident, President Ronald Reagan ousted his chief of staff Donald Regan in 1987 after he crossed Nancy Reagan.
An NSC spokesman, Garrett Marquis, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t respond to requests for comment on Grisham’s statement. Ricardel couldn’t be reached. Earlier Tuesday, Ricardel participated in a celebration at the White House celebrating the Indian Diwali festival where Trump spoke.
A White House official disputed a Wall Street Journal report that Ricardel had been fired soon after Melania Trump’s statement.
Bolton hired Ricardel in April from the Commerce Department. She previously worked in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush.
While Bolton likes her, according to Trump administration officials, Ricardel is widely disliked among other White House staff. She’s regarded as inflexible and obsessed with process, which some officials complain has complicated coordination between the NSC and cabinet agencies.
Grisham’s statement comes as several media outlets have reported President Donald Trump is considering a broader shakeup of his administration, including ousting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The Washington Post first reported late Wednesday that Trump was preparing to remove Nielsen, whom he has repeatedly blamed for what he calls an immigration “crisis” on the southern U.S. border.
“The secretary is honored to lead the men and women of DHS and is committed to implementing the president’s security-focused agenda to protect Americans from all threats and will continue to do so,” DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said in response to the Post report.
Nielsen has taken the blame within the administration for an uptick in migration across the southern U.S. border. Her department reported that 51,000 migrants were apprehended after crossing the border illegally in October, including more than 23,000 who were part of families. That’s about twice as many total apprehensions as in October 2017, and more than four times as many families.
Nielsen is a close ally of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who preceded her at the Department of Homeland Security. It’s possible her departure may lead to his, though he has said he will serve through Trump’s re-election contest in 2020.
Trump was seen talking to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, at an Election Night gathering last week, according to two people familiar with the matter — an encounter that’s fed rumors among Trump associates that Ayers may replace Kelly.
Pence aides have dismissed those rumors. Ayers isn’t accompanying the vice president on his travel to Asia this week, where Pence will stand in for Trump at summits in Singapore and Papua New Guinea.