Former Fox News contributor Morgan Ortagus, the expected pick to become the next State Department spokesperson, repeatedly criticized President Donald Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, a CNN review found.
Ortagus publicly lambasted then-candidate Trump over what she called his “isolationist foreign policy approach,” and blasted behavior she qualified as “disgusting” and “not serious.”
However, she quickly reinvented herself as a vocal Trump supporter after he secured the party’s nomination and has remained a key TV surrogate for the administration over the last two years.
Ortagus would bring deep foreign policy experience to the job.
While she is perhaps best known for her appearances on Fox News, the active Navy Reserve officer previously served as a Treasury Department intelligence analyst during the Obama administration and a spokesperson with the US Agency for International Development under President George W. Bush.
That experience sets her apart from former spokesperson Heather Nauert in the high-profile State Department position, allies say.
Officials have been preparing paperwork and examining Ortagus’ background for weeks and sources close to her say she is in good standing with the President, but there is lingering uncertainty around whether Trump is fully aware of the blistering attacks Ortagus levied against him during the campaign, several sources told CNN.
In an April 2016 appearance on Fox News, Ortagus, who was working for a super PAC associated with Trump’s primary opponent former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said she had deep-seated problems with Trump’s foreign policy approach despite agreeing with him on certain issues like Iran.
“In his gut, he does not think that Americans should be, quote unquote, the policemen of the world,” she said during a panel discussion dissecting Trump’s foreign policy speech.
“I don’t see it that way. I think that America is the glue that holds the world together. … So there were points that I agreed with him today, but overall, I fundamentally disagree with his isolationist approach to foreign policy,” she added.
Earlier that year, Ortagus had slammed Trump for mocking people with physical and mental disabilities and described his temperament as unsuitable for the Oval Office.
“You have somebody who makes fun of people with mental and physical disabilities. That’s disgusting; there’s no other way around it,” she said in January 2016.
“Quite frankly, I don’t want someone with the temperament of a middle school pubescent boy in the president’s office,” Ortagus added in the same radio interview.
In a March 2016 op-ed, Ortagus wrote that “people know Trump isn’t serious,” but acknowledged that he had tapped into a feeling within the Republican voter base that other candidates had not.
She did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
A White House official told CNN that they could not speak to the comments Ortagus made in 2016 but noted that she has cultivated strong relationships within the West Wing and built a reputation as a trusted national security voice.
Ortagus underwent a dramatic transformation after Trump won the Republican primary, serving as a surrogate until as recently as last Thursday.
“The primaries get heated,” a GOP source close to Ortagus said. “After the President secured the nomination, she was a TV surrogate for Trump and supported his candidacy in the general election. She has been supportive of the President ever since.”
A senior administration official cautioned last week that Ortagus has not officially been named. But there are signs that a formal announcement could be coming soon.
After CNN and other outlets reported last week that Ortagus was expected to be named to the position, a Fox News spokesperson said Thursday that she was no longer being paid by the network.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been advocating on her behalf, according to sources familiar with the situation.
For her part, Ortagus is prepared to address her earlier comments with the President if they come up, and will likely frame that criticism as typical of a heated primary race, two sources familiar with her thinking said.
“Her comments calling Trump ‘disgusting’ are something she will have to discuss with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and with the President. I think reviewing her past comments are probably part of the vetting process,” according to Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst, who is a close friend and business partner of Ortagus.
“I think the President would be hard-pressed to find someone who is qualified, can pass vetting and who hasn’t criticized him while he tries to fill senior roles,” Vinograd said.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Navy Reserve.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.