WASHINGTON — Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell will be leaving the Trump administration early next year, the White House announced Friday, in the first of what is expected to be a round of departures in the new year.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Powell had always planned to serve for a year before returning home to New York. She’s expected to continue working with the administration on Middle East policy issues from outside the White House, Sanders said.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster in a statement called Powell an “invaluable member” of the president’s team and praised her as one of “the most talented and effective leaders with whom I have ever served.”
“Her sage advice helped provide options to the president and her strong relationships across the U.S. government and internationally helped drive execution of the president’s decisions,” he said.
Powell was originally hired to work on economic development at the behest of Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But the Egyptian-American with international experience and fluency in Arabic was quickly tapped for the national security team when McMaster took over after Michael Flynn’s dismissal just 24 days into Trump’s term.
Powell’s foreign policy experience was forged under Condoleezza Rice, who brought her into the State Department when George W. Bush’s administration was trying to improve diplomacy in the Middle East.
Born in Cairo, Powell moved to the United States with her family at the age of four and had to learn to speak English. Entering Republican politics at a young age, Powell put herself through the University of Texas by working in the state legislature.
After stints with several GOP congressional members and at the Republican National Committee, she joined the Bush administration. There she became the youngest person to ever run a president’s personnel office. She later served Rice as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and as deputy undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
From the White House, Powell went to Goldman Sachs, where she worked for a decade, becoming a partner, looking after global investment and serving as president of the company foundation, overseeing an effort to invest in female entrepreneurs around the world.
At the Trump White House, Powell allied herself with the president’s influential daughter and son-in-law. That alliance, in addition to her Goldman credentials and her time working for Bush, led her to being viewed skeptically by some in Trump’s base and by nationalist forces in the White House that had been led by former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Her standing in the White House grew quickly, as Trump often leaned on her counsel even if he didn’t always follow her advice. She was the only woman in the room in an April photograph of a makeshift Mar-a-Lago conference room when Trump ordered missile strikes in Syria.
She worked closely with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, also a former Goldman Sachs executive, and acted as a liaison to the corporate world, though many of the president’s business councils disbanded after his inflammatory remarks in the wake of the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a White House riven by rivalries, she often teamed with Kushner and offered a more conventional policy perspective than Bannon, whose associates led a campaign against McMaster this summer.
The rare figure in the Trump White House to receive some praise from Democrats, Powell helped steer Trump through his first two major foreign trips, to the Middle East and Europe in the spring and to Asia last month. Powell, like Kushner, occasionally clashed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the direction of Trump’s foreign policy; during the summer she had been rumored as a possible ambassador to the United Nations if the current occupant of that post, Nikki Haley, was tapped to replace Tillerson.
Kushner applauded Powell’s work, including her efforts to help force a peace deal in the Middle East.
“She will continue to play a key role in our peace efforts and we will share more details on that in the future,” he said in a statement.