Rumors of a major shakeup rock a White House that's mum

WASHINGTON — News that several senior officials in the Trump administration were set to be fired rocked the White House on Tuesday. However, in a West Wing that’s seen record turnover and a slew of rumors that didn’t pan out, it was hard for even some insiders to know what to expect next.

President Trump is said to be considering replacing his chief of staff, John Kelly, according to a Wall Street Journal report published on Tuesday. The Journal reported the move would be part of a larger “shake-up” that would begin with the removal of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The report also said Trump would be getting rid of  Mira Ricardel, the top deputy for national security adviser John Bolton.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comments from Yahoo News about the reported shakeup.

Kelly’s departure has been one of the longest-running rumors surrounding the Trump White House. The former Marine general became White House chief of staff, one of the most powerful positions in the West Wing, late last July. In the more than a year since then, there have been regular reports that Kelly was set to quit or be fired. The rumors were attributed to various factors, including Trump’s alleged dissatisfaction with Kelly’s attempts to impose order on the freewheeling West Wing or clashes between the chief of staff and members of the president’s family, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are both top White House advisers.

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and White House chief of staff John Kelly. (Photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, Leah Millis/Reuters)

This latest report included another element that has appeared in past Kelly speculation. According to the Journal, Trump “probably will replace” Kelly with Nick Ayers, who is Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff. Ayers, 36, has spent over a decade in Republican politics, where he’s earned a reputation as an aggressive and talented political wunderkind. He joined Pence’s gubernatorial reelection effort in Indiana in 2016 and went on to become national chairman of Pence’s vice presidential campaign.

A source who has spoken to Ayers in recent days said Ayers dismissed the latest round of rumors as “the same story that comes up every two months.”

Ayers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

While the persistent speculation surrounding Ayers and Kelly hasn’t panned out in the past, there are some notably different aspects to this latest report.

Most importantly, during a press conference last Wednesday, Trump himself indicated that he was mulling high-level staff changes now that the midterm elections are over.

“We’re looking at a lot of different things, including Cabinet. I’m very happy with most of my Cabinet. We’re looking at different people for different positions,” Trump said when asked about potential staff changes, adding, “You know, it’s very common after the midterms.  I didn’t want to do anything before the midterms.”

Kelly speaks with President Trump after a meeting to discuss potential damage from Hurricane Michael, in the Oval Office on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The dismissal of Ricardel, a lower-profile aide, was pushed by the first lady, Melania Trump, who clashed with Ricardel during a trip to Africa last month, the paper reported. Melania Trump, who has been frustrated by some of her press coverage, also reportedly believed Ricardel was behind some negative stories about her office.

“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, when contacted by Yahoo News.

Ricardel did not respond to a request for comment.

In an administration constantly plagued by warring factions and uncertainty, Ricardel entered the White House with preexisting public feuds on her scorecard, including with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

It is unclear whether national security adviser John Bolton, Ricardel’s boss, who has a similar reputation for being sharp-elbowed and hawkish on foreign affairs, will step in to defend her and try to prevent the president from removing her.

In spite of leaks from unnamed officials and public comments from Trump and his wife, it remains unclear whether anyone is about to be fired. One former White House staffer described the rumors to Yahoo News as “the same as usual.”

The ex-staffer noted that Trump is reluctant to personally fire people and said dismissals are usually done by Kelly.  

“Long story short: I’ll believe the dismissals when they happen,” the former staffer said.

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