Twelve days ago, President Trump announced via tweet that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be “going home” at the end of the month, possibly because she wants to be governor of Arkansas.
One might have assumed that this would kick off a long and arduous search for Sanders’s replacement, as a staggering number of Trump administration positions remain vacant, and trying to clarify what this president means is a difficult and often thankless task. But surprisingly, Trump has already found his new press secretary — by looking to his wife’s staff and combining job duties. On Tuesday afternoon First Lady Melania Trump announced that her press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, will be taking over for Sanders.
Much like Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who at one point had two or three positions in the Trump administration, Grisham will now have three jobs: In addition to taking on the duties of White House press secretary, she’ll remain in charge of East Wing communications and serve as White House director of communications, assuming the role Bill Shine had held until March. Grisham may not be doing the work of three people, however, as some traditional press office tasks, like daily briefings, were phased out under Sanders.
Grisham is one of the few remaining top White House officials who worked on the Trump campaign. She was one of original Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s deputies but then shifted to the East Wing. A former senior White House official called her “the ultimate Trump loyalist,” telling CBS News, “She’s been with him from the very beginning. She’s proven her chops with the First Lady’s Office, which has avoided the missteps that often plagued the West Wing press staff. She’s tough as nails. The press respects her. And most importantly, Trump trusts her.”
Unsurprisingly, that picture of Grisham’s relationship with the press may be a bit too rosy. Here’s what New York Times reporter Katie Rogers told New York about her a year ago:
[The First Lady] relies really heavily on her aides, including her director of communications, Stephanie Grisham, to control the message. Stephanie is responsive, but if you ask her something that veers into anything that is considered personal, her office can lash out. That’s a little unusual — that they don’t always confirm where the First Lady is.
A Washington Post profile published in December notes that Grisham has become known for issuing usually “acerbic” statements on the First Lady’s behalf:
Grisham’s role has drawn attention for her acerbic statements directed at those who have crossed Melania Trump and her husband. When Trump attacked Mika Brzezinski in the summer of 2017 and claimed falsely in a tweet that she was “bleeding badly from a facelift,” rather than shying away from the controversy, Grisham offered this statement on Melania Trump’s behalf: “When her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.” When Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana, cheekily called herself the “first Trump wife” and therefore “the first lady” while promoting a book last year, Grisham called Ivana “attention-seeking and self-serving.” Grisham even got into an argument on Twitter with Issa Rae after the actress said in an interview that she would cancel her show Insecure if she learned that Melania Trump was a fan.
And Grisham wasn’t able to clear up the controversy surrounding Melania’s biggest debacle: her “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” coat. Grisham initially told the press, “It’s a jacket. There’s no hidden message.” She followed up with a tweet attacking the press:
Then the president contradicted Grisham’s statement, tweeting that the
First Lady’s jacket was meant to send a message — “to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”
Of course, in this administration, displaying propriety and accuracy when dealing with the press is no virtue. It does seem that Grisham will fit right in at the top of the Trump White House — she even has an alleged Hatch Act violation under her belt.