Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a driving force behind the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, plans to leave the White House as part of an anticipated wave of departures following President Trump’s first year in office, according to four senior administration officials.
Unlike some top White House officials who were fired or resigned amid controversy this year, Powell is exiting on good terms with the president, the officials said. She and Trump have discussed her departure and are working on an arrangement for Powell to continue advising the administration on Middle East policy from outside the government, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Powell's departure has not been publicly announced.
Powell committed to serving in her national security job for a full year and her decision to leave is her own, the officials said. She plans to move home early next year to New York, where her family lives.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster called Powell “one of the most talented and effective leaders with whom I have ever served.”
“Dina has been an invaluable member of President Trump’s team,” McMaster said in an email. “She organized and drove an effort to restore our nation’s strategic competence. Dina ensured that our integrated strategies protected the American people and promoted American prosperity. Her sage advice helped provide options to the president, and her strong relationships across the U.S. government and internationally helped drive execution of the president’s decisions.”
McMaster added, “All of us look forward to continuing to work with her as she continues to support this administration’s efforts on Middle East peace and other issues.”
Powell’s departure could come as part of a staff exodus around the Trump presidency’s one-year mark, with some senior officials eyeing the exits after a grueling first year marked at times by internal chaos.
For instance, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with Trump has been strained, is widely expected to leave his post in coming weeks. The White House has been considering a plan to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump loyalist.
Powell has been an all-purpose adviser on foreign policy, with a particular focus on the Middle East portfolio. She has advised Trump on his meetings with foreign leaders and planned all five of the president’s foreign trips, as well as his September visit to the U.N. General Assembly.
But Powell, like her colleagues, faces the question of how much influence she ultimately had on the president and his approach to foreign policy. Trump’s relationships with many traditional allies have been strained because of his combative statements and “America first” agenda, which European leaders in particular view as threatening.
She also worked to build relationships between the administration and corporate leaders, but several of the president’s business councils disbanded after Trump’s incendiary comments on the violence in Charlottesville.
Along with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the special representative for international negotiations, Powell has been an architect of Trump’s Middle East policy. Powell is planning to accompany Vice President Pence on his high-stakes visit to Israel and Egypt later this month.
“Dina has done a great job for the administration and has been a valued member of the Israeli-Palestinian peace team,” Kushner said in an email. “She will continue to play a key role in our peace efforts, and we will share more details on that in the future.”
Powell is departing days after Trump announced the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, throwing a wrench into peace talks.
She has been a conduit between the president, who has vowed to govern as a disrupter, and Washington’s foreign policy establishment, tapping the network she cultivated in her years as a senior official in the George W. Bush administration.
Together with McMaster and National Security Council staffer Nadia Schadlow, Powell developed the administration’s comprehensive national security strategy, which is being rolled out this month.
“Dina has done an outstanding job bringing structure and order to the National Security Council policymaking process and the interagency process,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “It was known from the beginning that she would spend about a year in the White House, so it’s not a surprise, but it will be a loss for the president and for H.R. McMaster.”
Powell, also a former Goldman Sachs executive, was to many Trump supporters the antithesis of what the administration should support, given her close ties to Wall Street and support of a traditional Republican view of international affairs.
This tension was evident in the criticism she received at times from some nationalists in Trump’s circle. Though longtime conservative leaders have publicly vouched for her, Powell has been lumped into what former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon dismissively calls the “globalists.”
Powell has a close relationship with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Kushner, both senior White House advisers, as well as with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, also a former Goldman executive.
One senior White House official described Powell’s relationship with President Trump as “really trusting” and said of his first year in office, “Without her, it would have been worse.”
“He talks to her all the time,” this official said. “He trusts her judgment. She’s been spot-on with her views on foreign leaders and how to handle them and talk to them. It comes with her years of experience.”
Powell initially entered the Trump orbit as an adviser to Ivanka and was hired at the start of the administration as senior counselor for economic initiatives. But when McMaster took over as national security adviser for Michael Flynn, who was fired after 24 days on the job, McMaster tapped Powell to serve as his deputy and oversee strategy and interagency coordination.
Powell, who was born in Egypt and speaks Arabic, has worked closely with many Cabinet members and senior staffers, including Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, with whom she traveled throughout the Middle East this spring.
During the Bush administration, Powell worked under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs, as well as at the White House as director of presidential personnel. She also worked on Capitol Hill as a House leadership staffer during the tenure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who earlier this week praised her "extraordinary" work on Trump's national security strategy.
Powell’s work in the administration has drawn plaudits by some Democrats as well.
“Dina has been one of the most respected and capable national security professionals in this administration — really in any administration,” said Jeremy Bash, who served in the Obama administration as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “She’s been able to be a bridge between the foreign policy establishment and the administration, and she has been trusted by both sides.”