Hope Hicks returns to a much-changed White House – with a more powerful and brazen Donald Trump

'Coming out of impeachment, he needs people around him whom he trusts,' presidential historian says of Trump

John T. Bennett
Washington
@BennettJohnT
Thursday 13 February 2020 19:32
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Who is Hope Hicks?

Hope Hicks left the White House after telling a House committee she sometimes told "white lies" on Donald Trump's behalf. Despite that admission, she'll soon be returning to his staff.

Ms Hicks' pending return to be a senior aide to Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and a West Wing policy adviser, has set off a new round of palace intrigue about the former Apprentice host's ever-changing roster of staffers and Cabinet officials.

After the leaving her post as Trump's latest White House communications director in February 2018, Ms Hicks landed a plush job as a communications executive at Fox Corporation. But the White House announced she will give up her corporate salary and life to return to a government salary and work inside the most chaotic West Wing in modern history.

Mr Trump is famously skeptical of many staffers, preferring to place most of his trust in a small group. There were few more at the center of that inner circle during his 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of his presidency than Ms Hicks.

"There is no one more devoted to implementing President Trump's agenda than Hope Hicks," Mr Kushner said on Thursday. "We are excited to have her back on the team."

To be sure, Mr Trump's presidency at times has felt like a revolving door, with a long list of senior White House aides and Cabinet officials being ousted or leaving for all kinds of reasons – and amid what in the past would have amounted to, for the boss, likely damaging political scandals.

Hicks' case was no different.

Not only did she admit to lying at times for the president during hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, but she also was at the center of a domestic abuse scandal involving her then-boyfriend, former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter.

Hicks testified in early 2018 before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia election meddling probe. She reportedly told the panel her job sometimes requires her to tell "white lies" on behalf of the president.

But sources have since said it was the Porter scandal, in which women with whom he had previously been in romantic relationships alleged he physically and otherwise abused them, that most hurt her and drove her decision to leave Mr Trump's White House – and always-scandal-hungry Washington.

White House aides at the time said the president understood Ms Hicks' decision, but was bothered by her departure. She had become one of his closest confidants, one of the few people he truly thought was looking out for his best interests.

Even in a White House where the president once shrugged off his presidency's record staff turnover pace by saying, "Everyone leaves," Ms Hicks no longer being within shouting distance of the Oval Office left him further isolated.

"At a certain point everyone sort of leaves, you have to leave," he told Fox News in July 2018. "I'm sort of just standing like a ship, just keep going, bing, bing."

Ms Hicks, however, will return to a much different West Wing – one in which the captain of the ship just survived impeachment and was acquitted in a Senate trial from which he emerged angry, bitter and eager for revenge.

Gone is John Kelly, the retired Marine general who was chief of staff when she exited and who is clashing with the president on Thursday after his critical comments the previous night at a New Jersey college.

In is Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff who reportedly never bonded with Mr Trump and frustrated the president with both his actions towards Ukraine in a scandal that led to the impeachment inquiry then his seeming admission in the White House briefing room of a this-for-that deal being sought with the government there. In again, kind of, are ousted former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who quit; that duo this week was named to a group that helps the White House pick fellows for the coming year. That means neither is completely back in Mr Trump's inner circle, but their appointment was a suggestion the president is turning to old hands to do even relatively simple jobs.

Gone is a New York real estate executive and former reality television star still trying to get his bearings in Washington and a feel for the office he occupies.

In is a president who appears to have fully grasped the broad powers voters handed him in November 2016 – and who seems to have interpreted his acquittal as a sign he can use those authorities to exact revenge on those he thinks wronged him and even use the Justice Department to help his convicted friends.

By bringing Ms Hicks back into the fold, the president whom Mr Kelly once warned against hiring "yes men" soon will have what many considered a leading enabler again down the hall.

Trump interference in Roger Stone case is 'abuse of power' Pelosi says

"Hope Hicks worked with Donald Trump for many years and knows him well. At this point in his presidency coming out of impeachment, he needs people around him whom he trusts," said Martha Kumar, director of the Presidential Transition Project.

"He wants familiar staff as others leave. Hicks is someone he trusted and listened to. It is a good time for her to return," Ms Kumar said, noting the president has lost 75 per cent of staff members with the title "assistant to the president" who were hired in the first two years of his term.

There have been other changes to which Ms Hicks must adjust.

Stephanie Grisham has since been installed in Ms Hicks' former job and the one Ms Sanders vacated earlier this year. There is a possibility Mr Trump will turn to his former communications director for advice that should come from the incumbent of that office.

One White House official assured The Independent that Ms Hicks "won't be part of the communications department," adding "she will be working closely with Jared Kushner ... in a number of strategic areas."

As for Ms Grisham, she told The Independent she is "beyond thrilled to welcome Hope back to the White House."

"I have worked with Hope for almost six years and can say without hesitation she is one of the most talented and savvy individuals I have come across," Ms Grisham said. "She has always impressed me with her quiet confidence, loyalty and expertise."

On Ms Hicks' final day of her first Trump White House run, a group of staffers were huddled in Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' office late in the afternoon as the outgoing Trump confidant broke the news. "Everybody loves you," said a voice from within.

Another aide at the time said they wanted to treat her departure as a "celebration." But there are questions aplenty about whether they will see her return the same way.

Palace intrigue and talk of warring factions inside the executive mansion will no doubt return as soon as she walks back inside.

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