President Donald Trump might have been famous for firing people in his reality TV days, but it’s his wife Melania who is swinging the axe at the White House after pushing for the firings of several officials.
Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly the first on the chopping block, after a clash with first lady Melania Trump, seven sources reportedly told NBC News.
The news outlet claims the first lady told her husband earlier this year that Kelly had repeatedly turned down requests to promote some of her aides. They also reportedly had disputes about travel requests.
And in another extraordinary move, the first lady’s office has called publicly for the firing of Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Mira Ricardel, after the pair had a string of run ins.
Melania’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement: “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honour of serving in this White House,” Grisham said of Ms Ricardel.
The press statement was released when Ricardel was at an official White House event with the president.
Melania reportedly told her husband she didn’t like the way Ricardel treated her, with their relationship taking a turn for the worse after a trip to Africa in October this year which “didn’t go well”.
A source said Melania felt she was not given adequate US government resources to support her Africa tour.
Her public push for the dismissal of a White House official is a rare criticism of a senior administration official by a president’s wife.
Meanwhile, Trump has soured on Kelly for many reasons, in part over frustration that his administration is not doing more to address what he has called a crisis at the US-Mexico border, according to two people with knowledge of the issue.
It comes as the president is weighing an administration-wide shake-up as he looks to prepare his White House for divided government.
But the scope of the contemplated changes is far broader, as Trump gears up for a wave of Democratic oversight requests and to devote more effort to his own re-election campaign.
According to people familiar with the situation, Trump is discussing replacing Kelly with Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers.
Kelly, a retired Marine general, has been credited with bringing order and process to a chaotic West Wing, but he has fallen out of favour with the president as well as presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Ayers, a seasoned campaign operative, would restore a political-mindset to the role, but he faces stiff opposition from some corners of the West Wing, with some aides lobbying Trump directly against the move.
Others changes are afoot, as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are being discussed for replacement.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen may also be getting the flick.
For all of the talk of churn, Trump often expresses frustration with aides and then does not take action. Talk of Kelly’s exit has percolated for months and he remains in place.
Nielsen had hoped to complete one year in the job and leave in December, but it appeared unlikely she would last that long, said two sources.
Both people who had knowledge of the debate spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
Curbing illegal immigration is Trump’s signature issue — and one he returns to as a way to rally his most loyal supporters.
But anyone who takes over at Homeland Security is likely to run up against the same problems that Nielsen faced. The administration has already tried to clamp down at the border but those efforts have been largely thwarted or watered down due to legal challenges.
Trump also told allies that he never fully trusted Nielsen, whom he associated with President George W. Bush, a longtime foe.
And he told those close to him that he felt, at times, that her loyalty was more toward her longtime mentor — Kelly — than to the president.
Zinke, who faces several ethics investigations, said in interview with The Associated Press on Monday that he has spoken in recent days with Trump, Pence and Kelly about probes into his leadership and they remain supportive. He denied any wrongdoing.
Originally published as ‘You’re fired’: Melania pushes for staff sackings