- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The White House said Wednesday night that top national security aide Mira Ricardel was being “transitioned” to another job in the administration, a day after first lady Melania Trump publicly called for her firing.

As the White House braces for even more high-level staff shakeups, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Ms. Ricardel “will continue to support the president as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration.”

“The president is grateful for Ms. Ricardel’s continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities,” Mrs. Sanders said.

Mrs. Trump’s office said Tuesday that Ms. Ricardel, deputy to National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, “no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” She and Mrs. Trump reportedly clashed over aspects of the first lady’s trip to Africa last month.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Bolton had resisted efforts by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to force out Ms. Ricardel, including when Mr. Kelly cited Mrs. Trump’s concerns two weeks ago. Mrs. Trump and her staff also discussed the matter with the president during his trip to Paris last weekend, and Mr. Trump told his wife that he would have Ms. Ricardel removed, the Journal reported, citing anonymous White House officials.

Mrs. Trump’s office said Wednesday that she gets along well with the embattled Mr. Kelly.

“She and the chief have a very positive working relationship,” Stephanie Grisham, communications director for the first lady, told The Washington Times in an email.

Mr. Kelly, who has held the high-pressure post for nearly 16 months, is facing renewed speculation about his job security amid reports of tension between the West Wing and Mrs. Trump’s office over staffing issues.

He also is caught in the middle of an anticipated shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security, the agency he formerly led, as President Trump weighs a replacement for Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. As Mr. Kelly’s hand-picked successor, she has clashed with Mr. Bolton over proposals for dealing with a caravan of migrants from Central America approaching the U.S.

Mr. Trump declined to say whether he plans to fire Ms. Nielsen or force out other top staffers, as he adjusts to a new House Democratic majority in the new year.

“We’ll be talking about it,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Included on the short list of people who could be tapped for the DHS post are Thomas Homan, retired acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who still keeps in touch with the president.

Asked Wednesday if he is being considered for the job, Mr. Homan demurred.

“I can’t speculate on what the president may or may not do,” he told Fox News. “We have a secretary right now, and uh, she’s working very, very hard. I just think we need to stand by her. [If] the president makes the decision, then we’ll stand by it. But until then, we have a secretary.”

He added that he has “a great relationship” with the president and went on to list his qualifications for the post.

“I think he respects me for the point, look, I didn’t come this way as a politician,” Mr. Homan said. “I was the first ICE director to come up through the ranks. I know what it’s like to wear the green uniform, I know what it’s like to be a special agent. I never asked anybody in that 20,000-man agency to do something I didn’t do myself. So [Mr. Trump] listens to me when it comes to immigration issues. I certainly appreciate his stance on this issue. He takes border security seriously. He supports law enforcement at such an incredible level. I truly respect this president.”

Mr. Trump is reportedly considering Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, to replace Mr. Kelly if he departs. Some White House observers say Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, has lasted about as long as could be expected in the pressure-packed job.

“I’m a little surprised that he’s hung on so long,” said University of Akron political science professor Dave B. Cohen, a scholar of the White House chief of staff position. “He strikes me as a pretty strong personality, and the president is a strong personality who doesn’t have a lot of patience for another strong personality in the room.”

Mr. Cohen said the lame-duck period after a midterm election “is a pretty good time to jettison your chief of staff.”

“There’s going to be a lot of changes in the White House staff and in the Cabinet. It makes a lot of sense to do that kind of reorganization all at once,” he said.

He called the chief of staff position “the hardest job in government save that of the president.”

“You have to run everything. You have to make sure the White House is running smoothly and you have to be the chief adviser to the president,” he said. “I don’t think people really know how many hours these people put in. The pressure and the stress is great. There’s an awful lot of responsibility resting on their shoulders.”

Mr. Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, lasted six months in the job, one of the shortest tenures for the position in history.

“Donald Trump really likes to be his own chief of staff in many ways,” Mr. Cohen said.

The first senior official to leave after the midterm elections was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned at Mr. Trump’s request the next day. He was replaced by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who had been serving as Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff.

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