Madeleine Westerhout, who left her White House job suddenly on Thursday as President Trump’s personal assistant, was fired after bragging to reporters that she had a better relationship with Trump than his own daughters, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump, and that the president did not like being in pictures with Tiffany because he perceived her as overweight.
Given Westerhout’s sensitive role as a confidante to the president, the few details the White House shared about her abrupt firing had Washington’s political-media class in a quiet frenzy on Thursday night and Friday.
The critical comments happened at an off-the-record dinner, according to two people familiar with the matter, that Westerhout and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley held earlier this month with reporters who were covering Trump’s vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Westerhout also jokingly told the journalists that Trump couldn’t pick Tiffany out of a crowd, said one of the people. “She had a couple drinks and in an uncharacteristically unguarded moment, she opened up to the reporters,” the person said.
At some point, Gidley left the restaurant for a television interview on Fox News. During that time — around 45 minutes to an hour — Westerhout made the comments to the reporters.
After the Aug. 17 dinner, which took place at the restaurant inside the nearby Embassy Suites hotel and included the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, Reuters’ Steve Holland and the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Restuccia, Westerhout rode back to a different hotel, the Marriott, with Rucker and Holland.
White House staffers having off-the-record dinners or drinks with reporters has long been a commonplace practice when a president is traveling.
“This was an off-the-record dinner and the media blatantly violated that agreement,” an administration official said.
Arthur Schwartz, a confidant of Donald Trump Jr. who spars frequently with the media, accused Rucker on Friday in a series of tweets of having “burned” Westerhout and of violating the Washington Post’s policies on sourcing.
Rucker referred a request for comment to the Washington Post, while the other reporters present either declined to comment or referred requests to spokespeople for their news organizations.
“Philip Rucker is one of the best and most scrupulous reporters in the news business,” said Steven Ginsberg, national editor at the Washington Post, in an emailed statement. “He has always acted with the utmost honor and integrity and has never violated Washington Post standards or policies.”
Trump on Friday confirmed that Westerhout had been dismissed for talking to reporters about his children, calling the comments “a little bit hurtful.”
“It was too bad,” Trump told reporters before leaving the White House for Camp David, adding that Westerhout was a “very good person” who performed her job well. “I wished her well.”
Trump said he would speak by phone with Tiffany when he reached Camp David, disputing that he had ever personally disparaged his daughter.
“I love Tiffany,” he said.
The White House and Westerhout declined to comment.
Other officials were wary of Westerhout, who did not work on the campaign and joined Trump’s team after the 2016 election. She kept largely to herself, several noted, but frequently posted pictures on Instagram of life in the White House.
POLITICO’s Tim Alberta reported in his recent book, “American Carnage,” that Westerhout was observed crying on election night because she was unhappy that Trump had won. But she found her way into a top job at the White House, having previously worked at the Republican National Committee.
During the transition period, Westerhout was known as “elevator girl” or “greeter girl” because she was often photographed escorting guests to see the then president-elect at his office at Trump Tower in Manhattan. She was previously an assistant to Katie Walsh, a top RNC official who also joined the White House, only to resign just months into her tenure as deputy chief of staff.
Westerhout, 28, was a key gatekeeper for the president, screening his official calls and controlling the access of outside advisers. In February, she blasted an unknown person who leaked three months of his calendars to the press.
“What these don’t show are the hundreds of calls and meetings @realDonaldTrump takes everyday,” Westerhout tweeted at the time. “This POTUS is working harder for the American people than anyone in recent history.”
Westerhout’s public displays of loyalty ran her afoul of the Office of Special Counsel, which reprimanded her earlier this year for violating the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal officials from engaging in overtly political activity in the course of their official duties.
And as one of a dwindling number of officials to have served in Trump’s White House since its earliest days, she was an important source of continuity for a tumultuous presidency.
“Madeleine is the key,” Trump told the Washington Post in a 2018 interview. “She’s the secret.”
White House officials were buzzing all day on Friday, trying to understand her sudden firing.
“It is a good reminder that we are all staff,” a White House official said. “We are all replaceable.”
Nancy Cook contributed reporting.