A week out from Election Day, and on the heels of Donald Trump’s latest failed overseas trip, there’s ample evidence that all is not well in the White House.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump “has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment,” and much of his staff is “trying to avoid him.” A former Trump aide told Politico of conditions in the White House, “It’s like an episode of ‘Maury.’ The only thing that’s missing is a paternity test.”
Trump is picking fights with the president of France and haranguing the British prime minister. He’s threatening to fire much of his team. He’s whining about the Secret Service. Some members of his team are publicly denouncing remarks from their own colleagues. After skipping a ceremony honoring fallen American soldiers who served in World War I, he blamed his aides “for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare.”
But to fully appreciate the level of dysfunction in this White House, consider the fact that First Lady Melania Trump is getting involved in national security personnel decisions.
In an extraordinary move for a first lady, Melania Trump’s office on Tuesday publicly called for the firing of a senior National Security Council official.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director issued a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying the official, Mira Ricardel, should no longer serve as the NSC’s No. 2.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said.
That was weird, though the story got a little weirder.
After Melania Trump’s office publicly called for the ouster of the deputy national security adviser, a variety of news organizations reported that Mira Ricardel had, in fact, been fired. The West Wing soon after pushed back, insisting Ricardel was still in her position, working at her desk.
While the back and forth was confusing, we weren’t just dealing with rumors and off-the-record leaks: the First Lady really did issue an official statement calling for Ricardel’s firing – a statement that, as of last night, the White House hadn’t acted upon.
In case this isn’t obvious, it’s extraordinarily unusual for a president’s spouse to try to exert influence over national security personnel decisions. It’s nearly as odd for a First Lady to call for an aide’s ouster, only to have nothing happen.
Let’s also note for context that Ricardel is the top deputy for National Security Adviser John Bolton – who, it just so happens, was out of the country yesterday when Melania Trump issued her statement.
I can’t say with any confidence how much longer Ricardel’s career in the Trump administration will last – according to multiple accounts, she has more than a few detractors on Team Trump – but the fact that this drama is happening at all is indicative of a presidential operation that appears hopelessly lost.