Tuesday 18 December 2018

Security aide sacked after plane dispute with Melania

Row: Donald Trump with wife Melania in Paris last weekend for the Armistice Day Centenary ceremony. Photo: AP
Row: Donald Trump with wife Melania in Paris last weekend for the Armistice Day Centenary ceremony. Photo: AP

Anna Gearan

US President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton's top deputy will leave the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said.

The news came just a day after US First Lady Melania Trump called for the official to be sacked.

Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel "will continue to support the president as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration," Ms Sanders said.

"The president is grateful for Ms Ricardel's continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities."

But Ms Sanders didn't say what Ms Ricardel's new job would be, and didn't respond to follow-up questions.

Ms Trump issued an unusual public statement demanding that Ms Ricardel leave the White House after clashes between Mr Bolton's deputy and the first lady's staff over her trip to Africa last month.

A transoceanic staff crisis that engulfed the National Security Council this week is partly rooted in a bureaucratic dispute over the seating arrangements aboard Ms Trump's plane to Africa last month during her maiden solo trip abroad.

As the East Wing prepared the flight manifest for the marquee trip, Ms Ricardel became angry that seats on the government jet were assigned to a larger-than-usual security entourage and a small press corps with none for Ms Ricardel or another NSC staffer, according to current US officials and others familiar with the trip and its aftermath.

Policy experts from the NSC and State Department were advised to fly separately and to meet the first lady's party on the ground, a practice the State Department had often used, but Ms Ricardel objected strenuously, those people said.

She threatened to revoke NSC resources associated with the trip, meaning no policy staff would advise the first lady during her visits to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Egypt.

Bad blood between Ms Ricardel and Ms Trump and her staff continued for weeks after the trip, with the first lady privately arguing that the NSC's No 2 official was a corrosive influence in the White House and should be dismissed.

But Mr Bolton rebuffed the first lady and protected his deputy, prompting the first lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, to issue an extraordinary statement to reporters effectively calling for Ms Ricardel to be fired.

"It is the position of the Office of the first lady that she no longer deserves the honour of serving in this White House," Ms Grisham said of Ms Ricardel in the statement.

Ms Trump and Ms Ricardel have never met, sources added.

The first lady signed off on Ms Grisham's statement, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr Bolton hired Ms Ricardel in April from the Commerce Department. She previously worked in the Defence Department under President George W Bush.

While Mr Bolton likes her, according to Trump administration officials, Ms Ricardel is widely disliked among other White House staff.

She's regarded as inflexible and obsessed with process, which some officials complain has complicated co-ordination between the NSC and cabinet agencies.

Ms Ricardel's ouster comes as Mr Trump considers a range of changes to his administration. He said on Wednesday in an interview with the 'Daily Caller' that he'll soon "be making a decision" on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has reportedly fallen out of favour with the president over what he's described as an illegal immigration "crisis" at the US border with Mexico.

Ally

But Ms Nielsen remained in her job on Wednesday, two days after the 'Washington Post' first reported that Mr Trump planned to remove her, and she travelled to the border with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to review the work of US soldiers Mr Trump deployed before the midterm elections last week.

Ms 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 Mr Trump's re-election contest in 2020.

Mr 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 rumours among Trump associates that Mr Ayers may replace Mr Kelly.

Irish Independent

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