Even in the moment when his favored advisers announce that they’re leaving him, President Donald Trump is often already discussing how and when he can get them back.
When his former top economic adviser Gary Cohn told him he was leaving last March, after losing a long-running battle on tariffs, the blow of another big departure was eased by the prospect of a roaring return.
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“Gary’s been so great. We’re going to miss him so much,” former communications director Hope Hicks told the president, according to “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House. “This is a shame. We’ve got to find a way to bring him back.”
“Of course,” Trump responded. “We’re going to bring him back.”
Hicks herself has since left the building, but is another person the president believes isn’t necessarily gone for good. “I love Hope, she’s great,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One last June when asked if she might return. “Many people would like to come back. Look, there is nothing more exciting than what we’re doing.”
Indeed, Hicks’ new executive position at Fox, where she will serve as chief communications officer, is seen as a job that would not prevent her from transitioning back into the White House at some point down the line.
On Wednesday, a day after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that she was leaving the administration, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: “I think Nikki will come back, in some form, too.”
But his former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell may be the first senior former administration official who could actually follow that playbook — showing that the fast-moving revolving door of the Trump administration doesn’t work in just one direction.
Powell has emerged as the lead contender to replace Haley, according to three current and former White House officials familiar with the process. Trump said he is considering four other unnamed candidates, and it’s far from a done deal that Powell would return to the West Wing. But Powell, who the president once considered as a potential chief of staff to replace Reince Priebus, comes with a good rapport with the president and buy-in from some of the top officials in the administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
“We’re looking at some people who are already with us,” Trump said Wednesday, noting that many people are interested in the job. But for Trump, elevating someone internally wouldn’t be as exciting as what Powell could offer him: the ineffable bonus of wooing her twice from a lucrative post at Goldman Sachs.
Powell has stayed in Trump’s good graces since she left, and the president for months has consistently mentioned her for various positions he wants filled — or filled better — according to White House officials. As one person put it: “her name is always out there.”
Powell left the administration at the end of last year, after having quickly risen from an adviser to Ivanka Trump on women’s issues to a deputy national security adviser with a heavy hand in Middle East issues. Back then, her name was floated as a potential Haley replacement in a game of musical chairs, if Haley had succeeded Rex Tillerson at the State Department.
At Goldman Sachs, Powell has been telling colleagues that she’s trying to decide if she’s really interested in pursuing the job, according to a source familiar with the conversations, who also said that she has long called it a “dream job.”
Powell returned to Goldman Sachs last February. But Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein, whose take on the Trump administration is that it is better for the country for competent people to go into the administration, has told people that he views the post as a unique opportunity and would understand if she took the job. The two other people responsible for bringing her back to Goldman Sachs, John Rogers, the firm’s chief of staff and executive vice president, and CEO David Solomon, are both on board, as well, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Powell has maintained a close relationship with the president’s children, Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who have been careful not to be seen as meddling in personnel decisions but who have said they believe Powell would be a good fit for the job when asked, according to the current and former officials.
“President Trump is a great boss to work for and it is an honor to serve our country,” said Boris Epshteyn, a former special assistant to the president who currently works as the chief political analyst at Sinclair Broadcast Group. “It is therefore no surprise that former senior officials would heavily consider joining the administration again if asked.”