WASHINGTON • Ms Hope Hicks, one of US President Donald Trump's longest-serving and most trusted aides, is leaving her job as White House communications director, a blow to a President whose inner circle has been depleted by firings and clouded by scandal.
The White House announced Ms Hicks' resignation yesterday, a day after she spent nine hours at a closed-door hearing of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said Ms Hicks' decision to step down was not related to her appearance before the panel, where lawmakers said she had declined to answer questions about the administration.
Ms Hicks, 29, a former model who joined Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign without any experience in politics, became known as one of the few aides who understood Mr Trump's personality and style and could challenge the President to change his views.
Her title belied the extent of her power within the West Wing - after retired General John Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff, she had more access to the Oval Office than almost any other staff member. Her own office, which she inherited after the departure of another Trump confidant, Mr Keith Schiller, was just next door.
Most significantly, Mr Trump felt a more personal comfort with Ms Hicks than he has established with almost any of his other, newer advisers since coming to Washington. And for a politician who relies so heavily on what is familiar to him, her absence could be jarring.
Ms Hicks said that she had "no words" to express her gratitude to the President, who responded with his own statement.
"Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years," Mr Trump said. "She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side, but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future."
Mr Trump has presided over an extraordinary amount of turnover among senior staff in his White House since entering office more than a year ago.
His first chief of staff, Mr Reince Priebus, stepped down last summer, and his chief strategist, Mr Steve Bannon was fired. Four people, including Ms Hicks and former press secretary Sean Spicer, who also resigned, have held the communications director mantle.
Ms Hicks did more than steer messaging. She was a constant presence in Mr Trump's orbit, sitting in on interviews with reporters and quietly steering press-related policy while maintaining a behind-the-scenes, low-but-glamorous-profile.
Her exact departure date was unclear but is expected to be sometime over the next few weeks.
Ms Hicks was also caught up in a controversy surrounding former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, another close Trump aide, whom Ms Hicks had been dating. She worked to defend him when charges of domestic abuse against his two former wives emerged. Mr Porter was ultimately forced to resign.