Two of President Trump’s senior political advisers said they were leaving the White House on Tuesday, marking a further thinning of the ranks in the West Wing ahead of a 2020 reelection bid.
Johnny DeStefano, one of Trump’s top advisers, and legislative affairs director Shahira Knight are leaving the White House, according to statements from the president and senior administration officials.
DeStefano, a counselor to the president who served as a bridge between the Republican Party and the administration, is leaving on Friday, while Knight’s last day is June 7, the officials said. Knight was a senior economic aide before leading the administration’s legislative affairs department.
Both officials were said to be leaving on good terms — which is often not the case in Trump’s West Wing — and for disparate reasons.
DeStefano — one of the last remaining aides from the start of the administration — was a key contributor to the administration’s political strategy during the 2018 midterms and ran the Office of Presidential Personnel in the early days of the administration, where he was responsible for staffing a large portion of the government during the early days of the Trump presidency.
He told Trump on Monday that he would be leaving the administration, White House officials said. DeStefano declined to comment. He is expected to advise a number of companies, including Juul, the e-cigarette company, while helping on the campaign, according to people familiar with his plans. Juul has significant business in front of the Food and Drug Administration, and former Trump spokesman Josh Raffel also works for the company.
“I love the guy — no one better. Johnny is indefatigable, knowledgeable, worthy of the highest praise, and personnel is policy. He served the President extremely well,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said in a statement.
Trump also praised DeStefano in a tweet late Tuesday afternoon. “Johnny, we will miss you — you did a great job!” he said.
News of Knight’s departure was first reported Tuesday by CNN, which cited a White House official as saying that Knight would move on to a job in the private sector.
“Shahira has done a wonderful job as my legislative affairs director. She was outstanding for us and for our country and will be a tremendous success in the private sector!” Trump said in a tweet Tuesday evening.
Knight said in a statement that it had been a “great honor” to work in the Trump administration. “I will always be grateful for the experience I have gained, and proud of the accomplishments I have helped achieve alongside a very talented White House team,” she said.
Knight succeeded Marc Short as legislative affairs director last year. She had previously served as deputy assistant to the president for economic policy and deputy director of the National Economic Council.
Knight told colleagues that legislative activity is likely to wind down as the presidential campaign ramps up, according to White House aides.
DeStefano was an aide to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and, in Trump’s White House, was among the most establishment figures. He was a low-key survivor in a dramatic West Wing — largely holing away in his second-floor office and staying out of the most contentious fights by cultivating close ties with former chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and John F. Kelly.
Republican strategists in frequent touch with the White House said DeStefano usually gave the president sound advice — and helped bridge the gap between an unorthodox White House and the party. He also understood Capitol Hill, aides said, and gave Trump realistic advice on what could pass — and where votes were on certain issues.
But DeStefano got off to a rocky start while in his first post running the Office of Presidential Personnel, which was seen as a chaotic operation in the early days of Trump’s presidency. By all accounts, the office lagged far behind its predecessors in appointing and confirming appointees across the government. The problems with the office’s performance were often attributed to the overall chaotic nature of the West Wing, but DeStefano also faced criticism for not running a smoother operation.
Some White House advisers also questioned the political strategy in the 2018 midterms — including the travel choices and the messaging — though much of it was determined by Trump. Republicans lost control of the House, which has led to aggressive oversight that has bedeviled the administration.
DeStefano was targeted by some on the right for not having sufficient Trump bona fides, and he clashed with Cabinet secretaries like former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over hiring. But he also served a valuable role, White House aides say, at blocking bad ideas from becoming policy and stopping some guests at the president’s vacation homes from having too much access.