The departure of the Trump whisperer has left the White House in even deeper chaos. Which surely pleases some outsiders angling to get back in.
On the morning of Wednesday, February 28, Hope Hicks arrived at the White House just after 8 a.m. Within a week, it would be snowing in Washington, D.C., but she was dressed for spring in a bouquet of purple, yellow, and blue, as if willing the end of winter with her miniskirt. She held on to her iPhone in the West Wing, in violation of a rule that normally diverted it to a locker secured by a shiny silver key, then retreated to her office, a first-floor broom closet that in the past had been assigned to presidential secretaries.
When the administration began 13 months before, competition among some staffers had manifested as a struggle for real estate here; Omarosa Manigault, a perennial reality-TV contestant, had gone so far as to steal a room that had been designated for Anthony Scaramucci, “the Mooch,” a hedge-fund millionaire obsessed with astrology and the word fuck, because of its status-confirming glimpse of the Washington Monument. Both of them were eventually fired, along with a procession of others who failed to maneuver the chaotic status hierarchy President Trump seemed to cultivate out of boredom.
A view of duck-tour buses circling the mall wasn’t needed for Hicks to know her standing. What her office lacked in flair it made up for in proximity. While others were left wondering what the president was thinking, Hicks could often hear him shouting, even with her door closed. “Hope!” he’d scream. “Hopey!” “Hopester!” “Get in here!”
Many requests were mundane. “He doesn’t write anything down,” one source close to the White House told me. “He doesn’t type, he dictates. ‘Take this down, take this down: Trump: richest man on Earth.’ ” A second source who meets regularly with the president told me that Hicks acted almost as an embodiment of the faculties the Trump lacked — like memory. “He’ll be talking, and then right in the middle he’ll be like, ‘Hope, what was that … thing?’ ” When the name of a senator or congressman or journalist came up, Trump would prompt Hicks to provide a history of their interactions, asking, “Do we like him?” “And she fucking remembers!” (Trump has said his own memory is “one of the greatest memories of all time.”) “She’s the only person he trusts,” the second source continued. “He doesn’t trust any men and never has. He doesn’t like men, you see. He has no male friends. I was just with one of them the other day, someone who’s described as one of his closest friends, and he doesn’t know him very well. But a small number of women, including his longtime assistant back in New York, he really listens to them — especially if he’s not banging them. Because, like a lot of men but more so, Trump really does compartmentalize the sex and the emotional part.”
Hicks looked around her sepulchral space, outfitted with three mismatched chairs. On the desk was a tiny oil painting by her paternal grandmother, Lucile G. Hicks, an abstract work that looked like the sea or the inside of a cyclone, depending on your point of view. Fresh flowers were delivered by the White House florist each week; today they were pale-pink roses. With the president a motorcade ride away on Capitol Hill at the memorial of “the GREAT” Reverend Billy Graham, there was relative quiet.
Hicks took out one of her notebooks, black leather with the Trump name embossed in gold on the front. She’d prayed a lot over the weekend, and also written two lists in the same bubbly print that had recently been photographed on a note card in Trump’s hand, reminding him to tell survivors of a school shooting, among other things, “I hear you.” One list contained reasons to resign as White House communications director immediately; the other, reasons to wait to resign. Not resigning at all wasn’t a consideration.
She’d come close twice before. Over dinner in Bedminster in early August, she told Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump that she was unhappy. She’d thought that being in the White House would feel different than the campaign, but instead, surrounded by eccentrics, maniacs, divas, and guys from the Republican National Committee who seemed to think they were managing a Best Buy in Kenosha, it was somehow sicker there in the stillness of it all. She suggested removing herself from the belly of the psychodrama to work elsewhere in the administration. Sharing her frustrations, Jared and Ivanka engaged her idea with caution; they asked her to give General John Kelly, the new chief of staff, a chance to change the West Wing for the better.
But as time went on, it became clear that the sickness was a feature, that anyone who entered the building became a little sick themselves. And no matter how dead any of the eccentrics or maniacs or divas appeared to be, how far away from the president their status as fired or resigned or never-hired-in-the-first-place should have logically rendered them, nobody was ever truly gone. The people who were problems on the campaign or on the inside continued to be problems. The president’s taste for the other and the new was so established that the most driven among them knew that all they had to do was wait for an opening, or shrewdly create one — a weakened staffer, a particularly demoralizing news cycle — and they could worm their way back in. The madness engulfing the White House, in other words, was not just a matter of staff infighting or factional ideological rivalries, as it was often portrayed in the press, but also, in part, the result of manipulation from the fringes of Trumpworld. In early December, Hicks had seriously considered resigning again. When her apartment’s annual lease came up for renewal, she couldn’t bring herself to sign the papers. Instead, she signed a six-month lease at a significant cost inflation.
Over the weekend, she had sketched out in her notebook various courses of action and how they might play in the press. If she resigned immediately, the assumption would be that it was the result of the bad news that had defined the winter. There was the question of her legal exposure in the special-counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the election; already, she’d been interviewed by Robert Mueller and had appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “She’s never failed to impress me, and I’m not an easy guy to impress, historically. I’m not a cheerleader,” White House counsel Ty Cobb told me. “She’s sort of the last person on my list that I worry about.” Yet Hicks surfaced at pivotal moments that were of interest to investigators, and she was now being mentioned along with phrases like obstruction. Soon she’d testify in the House, where she would take questions for nine hours, one moment of which, when it leaked — her admission that she’d told “white lies”on her boss’s behalf — made headlines around the globe (some suggesting the president was furious with her). And then there was her personal life, which, with a tabloid story that swelled into a background check and classified-information scandal, had collided with the country’s national security in a way that rarely happens outside Netflix.
Yet, if she waited, she probably couldn’t avoid the impression that she was leaving because of a crisis, because there was always a crisis. If she’d resigned in August, they’d have said it was owed to Charlottesville. In December? Mueller or Roy Moore. January? Fire and Fury. From a public-relations perspective, there would never be a right moment to leave, but public relations as it’s traditionally understood had almost no relevance in this White House. By Sunday, her gut had decided for her what her head couldn’t.
When the president returned from the Capitol around noon, Hicks opened her office door, which clasps with a ring at its center, and walked about ten feet to her right, into the Oval Office. Before she could finish resigning, Trump interrupted her. He told her that he cared about her happiness, that he understood her decision, and he would help her do anything she wanted to do in her life. He said he hoped she would go make a lot of money. He also said he hoped that she would come back at some point.
Then the president added something else: “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through.”
SOURCE: OLIVIA NUZZI
New York Magazine