“I never got a call,” Trump laments. “I never got a message. Who did you ask about speaking to me?”
The exchange between the men reveals much, but nothing so interesting as the pathway one apparently needs to take to reach Trump’s ear. So who knows the route?
Well, it’s not adviser Kellyanne Conway. Woodward had lunch with her, and the two apparently talked extensively about Woodward getting some face time with Trump, per the transcript. Conway, who entered the conversation at one point, said she passed along the request but didn’t take it to Trump directly.
Not deputy press secretary Raj Shah, whom one would expect would be the most direct contact for a journalist. “I don’t speak to Raj,” Trump said. Ouch.
Not Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) or several other unidentified senators whom Woodward says he spoke to about a possible interview. Graham mentioned it, Trump said, but only “quickly.”
The sole way of reaching Trump, according to the president, is a woman named Madeleine. “Did you speak to Madeleine?” the president asked Woodward.
No, the journalist replied.
“Madeleine is the key,” Trump said. “She’s the secret. Because she’s the person—”
Trump didn’t finish the thought, alas. But his description of Madeleine Westerhout, his 27-year-old executive assistant, piqued our interest.
Here’s what we know about the surprisingly powerful aide: Westerhout first came to public attention in 2016 as the “greeter girl” for dignitaries visiting President-elect Trump at Trump Tower. At the time, she was assistant to Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Katie Walsh. Previously, the College of Charleston grad had interned for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign; been a volunteer coordinator for John Kuhn, then a South Carolina state senator; and interned for then-Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
An “Inside Edition” headline about the brunette identified the “mystery woman” in front of Trump Tower’s elevator cams as an “ex-fitness instructor,” which the California native poked fun of on Twitter. “Love that I’m an ‘ex-fitness instructor’ but I only taught Pure Barre part time for a couple years…my #1 priority has always been the RNC!” she wrote.
From her role with the transition team, Westerhout was among a slew of RNC staffers named to White House roles. Some of her fellow RNC alums haven’t lasted at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Walsh have all since departed. But Westerhout’s clout has only grown.
According to the most recent listing of West Wing staff titles and salaries, Westerhout makes $130,000. In addition to being Trump’s “executive assistant,” she also has the title of “special assistant to the president,” a designation among the senior staff of the White House that ranks below “assistant to the president” (Conway is one) and “deputy assistant to the president” (Shah is in this group).
Other things we know about Westerhout from her Twitter feed: She’s fashionable — and frugal. (She shared a purchase of suede bow-accented stilettos she scored on the upscale consignment site Poshmark.) She’s a Caps fan. And maybe a little into Prince Harry? “Meghan Markle living every American girl’s dream right now,” she wrote on the day of the royal wedding.
Trump is accustomed to having an underling who serves as his gatekeeper: For years, anyone wanting to reach Trump would do well to put in a line to Rhona Graff, his longtime personal assistant/secretary/lady Friday. “If I wanted to get something to Trump without calling his cellphone, I’d send it to Rhona,” one Trump confidant told Politico in 2017.