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Unlike Many Trump Loyalists, Hope Hicks Stays Out Of The Spotlight


The interim communications director at the White House has been notably quiet. That's by design. Hope Hicks took the job almost 10 days ago. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has this profile.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Google Hope Hicks, and you'll find plenty of articles mentioning how young she is - 28 - that she used to be a model, that she worked in corporate PR for Ivanka Trump's brand. But people who know her say those data points paint an incomplete picture. Sam Nunberg worked on Trump's campaign in the early days.

SAM NUNBERG: And a lot of people have a misconception because they say, well, Hope is so beautiful. She's a model. That's the only reason Donald Trump hired - it's not true at all. She is extremely smart, and anybody that underestimates her is making a big mistake.

KEITH: When Nunberg was pushed out of the campaign, he and Hicks were not on good terms. They still aren't. But he respects her, says she intuitively knew how best to amplify Trump's message in conservative media and in early primary states. And she's done something few Trump aides have.

NUNBERG: She is a survivor. And she'll be with him to the very end.

KEITH: One key to her survival is keeping a low profile in a White House where it seems like everyone becomes an instant celebrity. When I approached Hicks for this profile, she politely declined to be interviewed. Dana Perino was White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

DANA PERINO: I think it's a skill not being in the press. And I've always admired people who were like that.

KEITH: Until now, Hicks' role in the White House has been that of the ultimate gatekeeper. She arranges interviews with the president, some of which turned out to be explosive, like this one from mid-July with The New York Times.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sessions should have never recused himself. And if he would - if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

KEITH: That interview produced days of problematic headlines. According to The Times, Hicks was the only White House aide in the room. Perino says there was probably a better way to handle it.

PERINO: I can imagine what happened - that he said, get them in here. Now, I think that there's just one way to accommodate a president by saying, OK, we'll get them in here, but you've got to give me 15 minutes because I need to just let the chief of staff and press secretary and communications director know you're doing it. That doesn't mean that he wouldn't have done the interview. It just means that other people wouldn't have felt blindsided by it.

KEITH: But any blowback Hicks got for that interview didn't stop her from being named interim communications director. Hicks wasn't always behind the scenes. As a child and early teen, she dashed from school in Greenwich, Conn., to modeling gigs and acting auditions in New York City.

But by the time she went to college at Southern Methodist University, Hicks was done with modeling. And her lacrosse coach Liz Holmes says she never mentioned that part of her early life. Holmes says Hicks preferred passing and letting others get the glory of scoring, and she had to push her to take more shots on goal.

LIZ HOLMES: She was like, oh, if you need me to do it, I'll do it, but I really don't want to. And I suspect that's sort of how the conversation went last week or the week before. (Laughter) Like, I really don't want to do this, but if you need me - she'll do whatever her team requires her to do.

KEITH: It's not clear whether White House communications director is a job Hicks wants long-term. But if the past is a guide, it could turn out that way. That she even ended up part of Trump's political operation seems something of an accident.

Out of college, Hicks went to work for a communications firm in New York. She was assigned to the Ivanka Trump account and in October 2014 was hired away by the Trump Organization to work primarily with Ivanka. Next thing she knew, Hicks was the press secretary for a highly unconventional and successful campaign.


TRUMP: Now, Hope Hicks is a tremendously talented person. She started off with us right from day one. She used to be...

KEITH: During a stop on his victory tour in December in Alabama, Trump called Hicks up onto stage.


TRUMP: You know, she's a little shy. But that's OK because she is really, really talented. Hope, say a couple of words.


KEITH: And for a brief moment, she took center stage.


HOPE HICKS: Hi. Merry Christmas, everyone. And thank you, Donald Trump.


KEITH: As improbable as it all seems, a younger Hope Hicks saw something like this as a possibility. At the end of an article about her modeling career in her hometown magazine, Hicks offered a prescient quote. "If the acting thing doesn't work out, I could really see myself in politics. Who knows," the teenage Hicks said. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "GYPSY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.