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Look who's saying 'You're fired' now - it's Melania

First lady Melania Trump on Aug. 20 in

First lady Melania Trump on Aug. 20 in Rockville, Md., at a federal anticyberbullying summit. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

The spouse that roared

Melania Trump's "Be Best" campaign hasn't really caught on, but her "be gone" command for an aide who crossed her grabbed everyone's attention on Tuesday, including Donald Trump's.

In a stunning move even in a White House where knife fights among rival fiefdoms are the norm, the first lady, through her office, publicly demanded the firing of the No. 2 official at the National Security Council, Mira Ricardel.

"It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director. A senior White House official told The Washington Post that Ricardel is expected to be fired. The conflict exploded into view while Ricardel's boss, National Security Adviser John Bolton, was in Singapore, and he is trying to save her, the Post said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the first lady's staff and Ricardel had clashed during Trump's visit to Africa in October over such matters as seating on the plane and requests for the council's resources. The first lady’s team told the president that they suspect Ricardel dished negative stories about them, the Journal said. Ricardel also has made an enemy of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Though she hadn't gone public with it before, the first lady has made it clear that she had the president's ear about his staff and wasn't reluctant to weigh in. She told ABC News during the Africa trip that she told him who she didn't trust and he listened. "Some people, they don't work there any more," she said.

What else is shaking

The episode comes amid rumblings of a shake-up for which you can't tell the players in any given intrigue without a score card. Chief of staff John Kelly has been trying to get rid of Ricardel for months, according to The Washington Post.  

But Kelly has also been on the wrong side of Melania Trump and her office for blocking promotions there and clashing on travel arrangements, NBC News reported.

Making Kelly's position even shakier is Trump's reported determination to get rid of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen when he can find a successor. Kelly is also out of favor with Trump's other family members at the White House, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. 

Janison: Why go ballistic?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can't seem to get a meeting lately with his North Korean counterparts. Satellite photos show Pyongyang is working on upgrades at more than a dozen missile sites.

No worries — "nothing happening out of the normal," Trump tweeted Tuesday, adding the assurance that "I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!"

Newsday's Dan Janison writes that South Korean officials don't sound alarmed either. 

Breaking news: CNN sues

CNN sued Monday to restore correspondent Jim Acosta's White House pass, and a high-powered veteran Republican lawyer, Ted Olson, is leading its First Amendment fight in federal court.

Olson served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration and argued the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 election for Bush after a Florida recount. Last year, he rejected feelers to join Trump's legal team.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Tuesday changed the thrust of the White House's story on why Acosta was stripped of his "hard pass" after a verbal dust-up with Trump at a news conference. After claiming last week that Acosta got physically aggressive with the intern who tried to take his microphone, and putting out a doctored video to try to back up that story, Sanders now says that Acosta tried to "monopolize the floor" and "physically refused to surrender a White House microphone . . .  so that other reporters might ask their questions.”

For more, see Candice Ferrette's story for Newsday.

French kiss-off

 Trump was still stewing like slow-cooked boeuf bourguignon over his Paris weekend and the rebuke he and his brand of nationalism received from French President Emmanuel Macron.

In a four-tweet rebuttal, he said Macron was trying to distract from his low approval ratings, higher unemployment and France's unfairness to American wine. Trump suggested, contrary to the spirit of the Armistice Day remembrances, that Macron was forgetting America's role in World War I and II. "They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!" Trump said.

France is proudly nationalistic, too, Trump said, concluding: “MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!” For more, see Ferrette's story for Newsday.

Here's mud in your oeil

The French are trolling Trump right back. A tweeted photo from the French army lampooned the rainout call that scrubbed Trump's visit to an American World War I military ceremony. It showed a French soldier crawling on rain-soaked ground with the caption, “There is rain, but it does not matter.”

Trump tweeted a new alibi for the cancellation Tuesday. "When the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving. Secret Service said NO," he said.

That doesn't square with Sanders' story on Sunday that Trump didn't want to travel by motorcade because he "did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people.” 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that Trump had isolated himself during one of the weekend events by deciding not to attend the Paris Peace Forum.

For Democrats, 2020 is now

With more than two dozen Democrats in the field of potential 2020 contenders, the campaign is starting early, especially for lesser-knowns who need to stand out from the field, writes The Associated Press.   

This is starting very fast," said former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky. She said that given the imperative to beat Trump, "it kind of needs to."

Even one of the more famous prospects, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hears the clock ticking. "Thanksgiving, Christmas and then maybe a few weeks into January — that's when you really gotta sit down, talk to your advisers and say, 'Look, do I have a chance?' "  he told AP in an interview. And that's from a guy who doesn't have to line up donors. 

What else is happening:

  • Has Trump gone low energy? With the sugar high of his campaign rallies worn off and the heat turned up by newly empowered Democrats, Trump has turned bitter, resentful and less interested in day-to-day duties, The Los Angeles Times writes. He reportedly decided against visiting the troops he sent to the southwest border, didn't visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day and didn't meet with Jordan's king, who was visiting Washington.
  • Maryland went to court challenging the legitimacy of Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, arguing that it sidestepped the Constitution and the Justice Department's own succession plan.
  • Hate crimes across the U.S. spiked 17% in 2017 — marking a rise for the third straight year — with a 37% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, according to an FBI report. Whitaker vowed action against the "despicable violations of our core values as Americans."
  • Bolton said he's not convinced of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A newly disclosed recording caught  one of the hit men informing a superior by phone, “Tell your boss.” 
  • Trump nominated John Abizaid, a retired four-star general, to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The post has been vacant since January 2017.
  • Trump's blaming of California officials for the catastrophic wildfires points up a disparity in his response to disasters in blue states vs. those that voted for him, such as Texas, Florida and the Southeast states hit by Hurricane Florence, The Washington Post writes.  But California has no gripes with FEMA, Politico reported.


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