Deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel forced out of White House

Decision comes day after Melania Trump statement

By LIZ STARK, CAROLINE KELLY AND KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

(CNN) - The White House, after a day of uncertainty, confirmed Wednesday that deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel is leaving her position after first lady Melania Trump's office issued an unprecedented public statement calling for her ouster.

In a statement, press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "Mira Ricardel will continue to support the President as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the Administration. The President is grateful for Ms. Ricardel's continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of his national security priorities."

Multiple West Wing officials were unable to say where she is going -- because they do not know. Two officials raised the possibility that the White House has not determined where Ricardel will go yet.

An additional senior official confirmed today was Ricardel's last day at NSC, and she won't be finishing out the week in her old post.

Sanders declined to comment beyond her statement.

Ricardel's departure from the White House comes as rumors swirl about who's in and who's out in President Donald Trump's administration. The President has reportedly been in a foul mood since Republicans lost the House in last week's midterm elections and aides are bracing themselves for a staffing shake-up in a White House that's become a tumultuous place to work, rife with more frequent outbursts.

The statement released by Melania Trump's office on Tuesday seemed to come out of the blue and put the focus squarely on Ricardel, who was not one of the more well-known members of the White House team before Tuesday afternoon.

"It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that (Ricardel) no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," the first lady's communications director Stephanie Grisham said in Tuesday's statement.

That statement was a stunning public scolding by a first lady of a top official in her husband's administration, coming after reports that Ricardel could be pushed out. It caught the President, chief of staff John Kelly and Sanders all off guard.

One person familiar with the matter said Ricardel quarreled with the first lady's staff over her October trip to Africa on issues including seating on the plane and use of National Security Council resources.

Ricardel seemed to have crossed a line in taking on the first lady's office over the trip, making what some viewed as challenging requests and being obstinate, a White House official told CNN.

The first lady's office did not respond to CNN's request comment Wednesday on Ricardel's move.

Sources said the President told advisers Tuesday that he had decided to fire Ricardel but that he was giving her time to clear her desk. Ricardel served as national security adviser John Bolton's right hand woman for nearly seven months.

Bolton, who was in Singapore when the news on Ricardel's future broke Tuesday, will lose a key ally in Ricardel, who served in the departments of State, Defense and Commerce under three Republican administrations.

One source familiar with the situation said Ricardel's dismissal was due in part to her "bullying" of aides both above and below her.

Tensions had also been rising between Ricardel and Kelly and his deputy Zach Fuentes in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Kelly and Fuentes believe Ricardel was leaking negative stories about them to the press, the people said.

Ricardel also clashed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during the transition. She blocked some of his choices for Pentagon positions because they included former Obama administration officials who she felt were not strict Republican loyalists, multiple defense officials told CNN. Mattis then blocked Ricardel from getting a high ranking Pentagon position.

Throughout Ricardel's tenure at the National Security Council, White House sources repeatedly leaked stories to the press saying that she and Bolton were spreading rumors about Mattis' imminent departure in an effort to pressure the Pentagon chief to leave.

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