Political News

First Lady Hires Aides Amid Scrutiny From Book

Posted January 11, 2018 7:39 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — Nearly a year into her tenure as first lady — and after a week of intense scrutiny prompted by a new book that claims she had dreaded life in the White House — Melania Trump has hired a director of policy to advance her nascent platform.

For months, Melania Trump’s East Wing had searched for a policy director who could further an agenda that has been broadly defined as helping children. On Thursday, the White House announced the first lady’s choice: Reagan Thompson, 27, who had previously served as an executive assistant on the National Security Council.

Before working for the NSC, Thompson was a communications and policy adviser for Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, when he was a Republican congressman.

It is unclear how Thompson’s background in serving Pompeo — she has described her duties with him as “working on issues for the intelligence and Benghazi committees and on Iran, Guantánamo and Asia” — may help her in her new role.

But in a statement, Melania Trump said that Thompson, as well as two other aides whose hirings were announced on Thursday, had demonstrated “true professionalism.”

“Reagan’s experience with various statewide and national campaigns will be a big asset as the first lady and her team prepare to roll out her official platform in the coming months,” Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s spokeswoman, said in an email.

The first lady has given few clues to where she may focus her efforts, but she has publicly expressed interest in helping children affected by the opioid crisis, advocating anti-bullying measures and aiding disaster relief efforts. (Her previous promise to combat cyberbullying seems to have fallen on the list of priorities.)

First ladies have often taken a deliberate approach to rolling out initiatives. Michelle Obama unveiled “Let’s Move,” her signature campaign to combat child obesity, about a year into her tenure. Laura Bush took about that much time organizing the first National Book Festival.

Compared with her predecessors, Melania Trump is still keeping her East Wing staff small: At 12 people, the head count is roughly less than half the number of people who worked for previous first ladies.

In addition to Thompson, the other new East Wing aides are Annie LeHardy, who will move from the West Wing to serve as a communications coordinator for Melania Trump, and Justin Caporale, a veteran of the Trump campaign and an aide in the White House advance office, who will serve as the first lady’s director of operations. As a student at Stanford University, Thompson served as the president of a student group supporting Mitt Romney’s run for president in 2012. During her time with Pompeo, she appears to have worked closely with him, including during his preparations to become CIA director.

“Proud of my friend & colleague,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, wrote on Twitter last January, “who helped her boss @repmikepompeo get confirmed for CIA.”

In winning a “30 Under 30” award from the website Red Alert Politics in 2016, Thompson told the site that “our party has to dig deep and recommit to our founding principles.”

“I feel that time is short — we no longer have the option to just get along, to be popular, and take the easy way out,” she added.

The announcement of Melania Trump’s staff additions comes days after the White House was put on the defensive by the new book, “Fire and Fury,” by Michael Wolff, which described President Donald Trump as someone with a short attention span, lack of grasp of policy details and slapdash approach to the presidency.

In the book, Wolff wrote that the first lady had cried on election night — a claim that two people close to her have denied — and had not supported her husband’s bid for the presidency.

Donald Trump’s response to the book has been decidedly more pugilistic than his wife’s, but, according to people who know her well, she shares the president’s grievances about the book and has instructed her staff to forcefully push back against it.

“Mrs. Trump has always been supportive of her husband’s run for president and that continues a year into his presidency,” Grisham wrote in an email shortly after excerpts from the book were published last week. “She knows how much he loves this country and supports him fully. He consistently seeks her advice and counsel on many subjects.”

Grisham did not go into specifics.