by Maggie Haberman
Hope Hicks, President Donald Trump’s communications director and one of his longest-serving advisers, said Wednesday that she planned to leave the White House in the next few weeks.
Hicks, 29, a former model who joined Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign without any experience in politics, became known as one of the few aides who understood Trump’s personality and style and could challenge the president to change his views.
Her title belied the extent of her power within the West Wing — after John F. Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff, she had more access to the Oval Office than almost any other staff member. Her own office, which she inherited after the departure of another Trump confidant, Keith Schiller, was just next door.
Most significantly, Trump felt a more personal comfort with Hicks than he has established with almost any of his other, newer advisers since coming to Washington. And for a politician who relies so heavily on what is familiar to him, her absence could be jarring.
Hicks said that she had “no words” to express her gratitude to the president, who responded with his own statement.
“Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years,” Trump said. “She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side, but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future.”
Her resignation came a day after she testified for eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee, telling the panel that in her job, she had occasionally been required to tell white lies but had never lied about anything connected to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Hicks’s first association with the Trump family was working with Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, on her personal apparel and licensing brand about six years ago. When Trump was planning his campaign in spring 2015, he told Hicks he was pulling her from Ivanka Trump’s team to put her on his small political staff despite her lack of experience.
But the Trump family trusted her, and that was a crucial factor in her emergence as a key aide to the president, who also valued her loyalty.
Yet as the person who spent the most time with Trump, Hicks became enmeshed in a number of controversies over the past year, including key aspects of the investigations by Congress and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as the firing of the FBI director, James B Comey.
In recent weeks, her personal life drew unwanted attention when it was reported that she had dated Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who resigned under pressure over allegations that he had abused his two former wives.
Multiple White House aides said Hicks’ decision to leave was unrelated to her appearance before the House committee. They said she had told a small group of people in the days before the session that she had planned to resign, partly because she never liked Washington and chose not to try to pretend to.
Hicks’ departure will coincide with those of other people who have been close to the Trump family members in the White House. Reed Cordish, a policy adviser and friend of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, is leaving his role; Josh Raffel, a press aide whose initial portfolio was primarily focused on Kushner and Ivanka Trump, is also leaving; and Dina Powell, who had been a deputy national security adviser who was close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump, left weeks ago.
Their absence will deprive Donald Trump and his daughter and son-in-law of many of the aides who served as crucial buffers and sounding boards as a turbulent and politically uncertain year begins.
Among the things Hicks had advised Trump, according to multiple White House officials, was to tone down some of his Twitter posts or stop sending them altogether, an effort that had mixed results. She also had the ability to stop Trump from focusing on an issue he was angry about, and sometimes shield other members of the staff from Trump’s anger.
While Hicks and Kelly developed a functional, respectful relationship, he considered her access to the president to be a challenge to the command-and-control system he tried to enforce, according to several White House aides.
But on Wednesday, Kelly echoed the president’s praise.
“I quickly realised what so many have learned about Hope: She is strategic, poised and wise beyond her years,” Kelly said. “She became a trusted adviser and counselor, and did a tremendous job overseeing the communications for the president’s agenda including the passage of historic tax reform.”
Several staff members described Hicks as a protector against some of the more difficult aspects of working in the Trump White House, and expressed concern about what her absence would mean for the team.
As communications director, Hicks worked to stabilize, to some extent, a fractious press department of about 40 people who were often at odds with one another. She maintained one of the lowest public profiles of anyone to ever hold the job, declining to sit for interviews or appear on the podium in the White House briefing room.
Even those in the West Wing who did not like her approach feared her power, and worried about crossing her. But some former Trump advisers sounded hopeful that a new staff configuration might create a more consistent approach to governing, in contrast to the way the White House has functioned for the past year, when people close to the president could easily influence him.
Other advisers said they were more concerned that Trump, who has found the White House isolating, would struggle with no close campaign aides nearby.
Dan Scavino Jr, the White House digital director, is the only member of the president’s original campaign team still working directly for Trump. Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, was an early campaign press aide, and the president is fond of her, raising the possibility she could play a role with the West Wing press office.
It was not immediately clear who will fill Hicks’ role, although several White House officials and external advisers said they expect that Mercedes Schlapp — who Kelly brought in and who was seen by some as a ballast against Hicks’ influence when he took over the job — will be elevated in some way.
Hicks had been considering leaving the White House for several months. She told colleagues that she had accomplished what she felt she could with a job that made her one of the most powerful people in Washington, and that there would never be a perfect moment to leave, according to White House aides. Hicks told the president of her plans on Wednesday afternoon.
Her departure date was unclear, but it is likely to be in the next few weeks. She has not said what she will do next.