On Thursday, it was announced 29-year-old White House Communications Director Hope Hicks would resign.
Known for being one of Trump’s longest-serving aides with the highly sought-after ear and trust of the President, Hicks’ resigning comes as a relative surprise in a White House plagued by staff turnover.
Curiously, her resigning also comes a day after she answered eight hours worth of questions in her House Intelligence Committee testimony as part of the panel’s Russia investigation. Reports surfaced after the hearing that Hicks admitted telling “white lies” for the Donald Trump, though she insisted she had not lied about matters regarding the Russia investigation.
Writing on Twitter, New York Times White House corespondent Maggie Haberman, who broke the story, says Hicks’ resignation has nothing to do with her Russia hearing yesterday.
“Hope Hicks departure is NOT about yesterday’s hearing, per multiple sources. She had planned it before, had been thinking about it for months. She had informed a very small number of people prior to Hill hearing that she planned to leave.”
She went on to say Hicks “does not even have a departure date” and is not “being hustled out of the building”.
“She told colleagues she felt like she had done all she could do in the job. She had never liked Washington and never become part of its ecosystem.”
The news comes as Hicks’ name begun to make news of its own in recent weeks, as the the youngest Communications Director in US political history accidentally became the story.
For Hicks, quotes are rare, interviews are rarer still, and her social media presence is non-existent. Most Americans have never even heard her voice.
To understand why Hicks’ exit is such a blow for Trump, you must first understand the presence she demanded under Trump’s leadership.
In a shouty, Tweet-happy White House, Hicks is the quiet, considered achiever, the right-hand more trusted than any other to deliver the bad news stories to President Trump. (As former campaign adviser, Jason Miller, once said, “We all had to do it. She was just better at it.”)
Yet this month, Hicks found herself in one of the most uncomfortable places a media-shy Presidential staffer could possibly be: the headlines of one of those bad news stories.
The former model and PR executive came embroiled in allegations made against Rob Porter, the senior Trump aide who resigned last Wednesday after his two ex wives accused him of domestic violence.
Both women – Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby – alleged via The Daily Mail that the 40-year-old had been verbally, emotionally and physically abusive during the course of their marriages.
Yet in spite of the detailed claims, the White House stood by their man. In accordance with Porter’s denials, a supportive statement was issued in the name of Chief of Staff John Kelly: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honour, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidant, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
So where does Hope Hicks come in? Well, 1. She helped craft that unbelievable statement in Porter’s defence; 2. She was dating him at the time. (After the story broke, it was soon reported they split.)
It's not even the first time Hicks has been romantically linked to a high-profile White House colleague accused of assaulting women. She reportedly had an on-again-off-again relationship with former (and married) Press Secretary Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with battery in March 2016 for roughly grabbing a female reporter as she tried to ask Trump a question. He turned himself in on a misdemeanour charge but was swiftly released.
In December of 2017, Lewandowski, 44, was then accused of violently slapping the backside of singer and Trump supporter, Joy Villa - "I told him to stop, and then he did it again," she later tweeted. "I was shocked and embarrassed by his behaviour."
How did Hicks end up here?
As the President's Communications Director, it's Hicks' job to work behind the scenes to facilitate press interviews, guide coverage to promote the agenda of the office.
But when press surfaced about Hick's alleged conflict of interest in the Porter saga this month, it was Trump's turn to handle the bad news: "Hope is smart, very talented and respected by all," he told media on Friday.
Few more so, by all accounts, than Trump himself.
LISTEN: We discuss how Trump's young Communications Director Hope Hicks has found herself defending a domestic abuser.
The Republican hand-picked the third-generation PR professional straight from the 25th floor of Trump Tower, where she worked on expanding Ivanka Trump's fashion line and promoting select Trump resorts. The Connecticut woman had previously modelled for Ivanka's label (as well as Ralph Lauren), but also came to the organisation with a university degree and a stint in a fierce Manhattan PR firm under her belt.
It was in January 2015 when the property tycoon called the then 27-year-old up to his office: “Mr. Trump looked at me and said, ‘I’m thinking about running for president, and you’re going to be my press secretary,’” Hicks recalled in New York Magazine.
She had never worked in politics or even volunteered on a campaign, yet there she was - the gatekeeper to the soon-to-be most powerful person in the free world.
Notes on a scandal. Or two.
While Trump's inner circle has built somewhat of a revolving door during his 13-month Presidency (there have been 17 high-profile casualties so far), Hicks had never seemed to be under threat of making an early exit.
Yet with the Porter scandal, she began to face scrutiny for the second time in her debut stint in D.C. Added weight, of course, was the Russia investigation.
Earlier this month, the outlet reported claims by former Trump legal spokesperson, Mark Corallo, that Hicks co-wrote a July 2017 press release that misrepresented the purpose of a suspicious meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian government official the previous year. On top of that, Corallo alleged, she assured him that any emails contradicting the release would "never get out".
For a full explainer on Rob Porter and Hope Hicks, listen to this week's ep of our US politics podcast. Post continues.
If true, this would arguably represent an obstruction of justice and possible jail time.
Michael Wolff, the author of hugely popular Trump expose, Fire and Fury, recently tweeted a prediction that "Hope Hicks becomes the John Dean of the Trump White House." (Dean being the lawyer who first helped thwart investigators during the 1970's Watergate scandal, but then turned on then-President Richard Nixon by revealing his role in the cover-up.)
But now that Hicks' is out? Well, the story becomes all the more confusing.
- With additional reporting from Zara McDonald