Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign and relentlessly chaotic presidency, the single constant presence at his side, outside of his family, has been the 29-year-old former Ralph Lauren model and White House communications director Hope Hicks.
While aides and advisers fall in and out of favor, Hicks has remained Trump’s Oval Office gatekeeper, companion and sounding board, offering consistent loyalty.
But now Hicks has herself been cast into two plotlines currently playing out in the presidential daytime reality-soap.
In one, Hicks features as a likely target in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s effort to acquire cooperating witnesses in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hicks has reportedly been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators.
In the other, her prized judgment is being called into question over Rob Porter, the senior White House aide accused of physically abusing two ex-wives and whom Hicks has reportedly been dating.
Publicly, Trump has offered his support for Hicks, saying: “Hope is absolutely fantastic. She was with the campaign from the beginning, and I could not ask for anything more. Hope is smart, very talented and respected by all.”
But in private, the president is believed to have issued rare criticism of a woman who by some estimates is the most influential figure in the administration after Trump himself.
At issue is whether Hicks, who also served as communications director during the campaign, relaxed her judgment owing to her relationship with Porter.
White House officials have said Hicks knew that an ex-girlfriend of Porter’s had informed aides that both of Porter’s ex-wives had said he was violent. Hicks continued to see him and did not tell the president. Porter denies the allegations against him.
If the unfolding episode calls into question the maturity of Hicks’ judgement, she clearly is invaluable as a personal assistant. In his campaign memoir, Let Trump Be Trump, Corey Lewandowski, the early campaign strategist – with whom, coincidentally, Hicks also had an affair – described her steaming Trump’s suit while he is wearing it.
“She’s really quite talented and able,” Christopher Ruddy, a close friend of the president and chief executive of the conservative website Newsmax, told the Washington Post.
But her professional experience, especially where is comes to matters that carry potentially legal consequences, is limited. Hicks came to the Trumps through a PR firm that represented the Trump Organization. The family later hired her away to work exclusively for them, furnishing her with responsibilities that included working on Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.
A GQ magazine profile in June 2016 described her: “She is a hugger and a people pleaser, with long brown hair and green eyes, a young woman of distinctly all-American flavor – the sort that inspires Tom Petty songs, not riots.”
But her looks and fashion background can cause people to underestimate her. She has a background in PR and is a graduate of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University.
Trump has claimed she has an ability to quickly acquire political experience. “She was very natural when it comes to picking it up, and a lot of people can’t pick it up, because it’s so fast-moving. It’s faster-moving than anything else.”
In his account of the Trump White House, the author Michael Wolff described Hicks’ role as the “single most important job in this White House: interpreting the media for him [Trump] in the most positive way it could be interpreted, and buffering him from the media that could not be positively spun.”
In a column for the Hollywood Reporter, Wolff wrote: “With Melania a nonpresence, the staff referred to Ivanka as the ‘real wife’ and Hicks as the ‘real daughter’.”
But now that Hicks is herself part of the media narrative, can she do her job effectively? According to the Washington Post, Hicks has appeared visibly upset as her love life has become a news story: “West Wing aides say she has glanced at the TV screens, seen her face and quickly looked away.”