Editor’s Note: CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of “Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, a former candidate for governor of Massachusetts and CEO of Zemcar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
By all accounts, Mira Ricardel has not made a lot of friends in the Trump administration. A key member of national security adviser John Bolton’s team, she was brought in in April to help him shake up the national security staff. In the past, she had butted heads with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and chief of staff John Kelly is reportedly not a fan, two former White House officials told the Washington Post.
Now it appears that she has learned, quite publicly, that the one you really don’t want to mess with is the first lady.
In another episode of “Survivor: West Wing,” Melania Trump went public Tuesday with her personnel concerns about Ricardel, in the process undermining the national security staff and – not to be forgotten – our national security. Indeed CNN reported Tuesday afternoon that “a White House official confirmed … that Trump has told people that Ricardel will be fired, but she has been given some time to clear out her desk.”
The once private dispute between the first lady, her staff and Ricardel broke into the open this week after news reports that Ricardel had challenged some request from the first lady’s office about Melania Trump’s recent trip to Africa. CNN reported that a person familiar with the most recent dustup said “Ricardel quarreled with the first lady’s staff over seating on the plane and use of National Security Council resources.”
Melania Trump’s spokeswoman issued a statement Tuesday that “(i)t is the position of the office of the first lady that she [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”
So, let me make a few things clear. First, Ricardel may have been behaving badly regarding the Africa trip; there are some suggestions in news reports that she deliberately withheld national security resources from the first lady’s office. Second, Melania Trump has every right to relate her disdain for bad behavior to her husband or Bolton and to ask for a staffer’s resignation over not sufficiently respecting the first lady’s duties.
But what is not acceptable, and indeed dangerous, is the extent to which Melania Trump used her status as a family member — unelected, unappointed and unqualified — to dictate national security personnel decisions, in public, as if there are no global consequences to such action.
And, in this regard, the first lady was acting very – Trumpish.
There is a great deal of this sort of behavior in this White House — the people’s house. The President, her husband, wants a military parade (eventually). Jared Kushner, Melania Trump’s son-in-law, wants to guide Middle East politics while continuing his business deals with those very same nations.
Earlier in the administration, Ivana Trump, Melania Trump’s husband’s ex-wife, said she was considered for (and turned down) the post of ambassador to the Czech Republic. And Ivanka Trump, her daughter-in-law, just received initial approval for 16 new trademarks from China, while experts on trade are trying to avoid a tariff war.
All these are examples where the line between national security and Trump family interest are blurred, if not essentially invisible. There are no American interests for the first family, only Trump personal or financial interests.
And there is likely to be more drama poured into the security mix in coming days. Sources in the White House made it clear Tuesday that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen’s days in her job are numbered. And John Kelly, the chief of staff, may also be booted, sources told CNN.
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Melania Trump’s actions are consistent with the mercurial management preferences of the Trump family; indeed, the President is keen on calling the defense apparatus that exists to protect America “my generals.” The family has turned national security – once, not so long ago, immune from the political backstabbing and favor-grabbing that animate the political side of the White House – into its own TV-style drama. The first lady felt no need to hide that that was exactly the way she was handling things.
Bolton, who hired Ricardel, doesn’t have many options. Melania Trump has spoken. This is no longer our national security hard at work to protect the American public. It is a denigration of the career staff and (whether you like him or not) the NSA’s Bolton. In public.
Dear world, this is America’s security apparatus. Fear us? Respect us? At least, don’t laugh at us?