Melania Trump’s East Wing team prepares for a major diplomatic moment
(CNN) — Tuesday’s State Dinner with France is a major moment of diplomacy for the Trump administration, but it’s also the culmination of months of thoughtful work and attention to detail by first lady Melania Trump and her East Wing staff.
Trump got a slow start to filling her East Wing team compared with her recent predecessors, putting her first hire, chief of staff Lindsay Reynolds, in place two weeks after the Inauguration.
“I am putting together a professional and highly experienced team, which will take time to do properly,” the first lady said in a statement at the time. “I am excited to be organizing and bringing together such a dynamic and forward-thinking group of individuals who will work together to make our country better for everyone.”
Since then, she’s added a social secretary, a communications director, a policy director and a communications coordinator, among others, bringing the East Wing staff total to 10, still a relatively lean office. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush both had about 25 staffers by the time their husbands left office.
“The team is small but mighty,” communications director Stephanie Grisham told CNN.
Her staff has yet to experience the massive turnover or stories of palace intrigue of her husband’s West Wing, although they have lost at least three members since inception.
“We are a close-knit team,” Grisham said.
Here’s a look at some of the East Wing team:
As chief of staff, Reynolds is ever-present at Melania Trump’s side, managing the agenda and day-to-day operations of the Office of the First Lady.
She previously served in George W. Bush’s White House and brings more than 14 years of political fundraising, event management and logistical expertise to the position, according to a White House statement announcing her hire last year.
Before her official entrance into politics, Reynolds taught third grade in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Anna Cristina “Rickie” Niceta
As social secretary Rickie Niceta oversees the planning and execution of all White House social events, including state dinners, parties, official policy-related events, and the first lady’s initiatives. For Tuesday’s State Dinner, she is coordinating White House residence staff, from the calligraphers and pastry chefs to the ushers, to pull off the event.
Niceta previously worked as account executive at Northern Virginia-based Design Cuisine, an event planning and catering company that helped cater the inaugural luncheon at the US Capitol in January 2017.
Speaking to The Washington Post last May, Niceta offered her guiding philosophy for the role: “I think it’s really important to take care of people,” she said. “I never wanted to let my clients down. I don’t want to let the first family down. And I don’t want to let the person who has a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to the White House down.”
East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham is perhaps the most high-profile member of Trump’s team, speaking to reporters on the first lady’s behalf, helping the first lady develop a communications strategy for her initiatives, and responding to media inquiries.
Grisham joined the East Wing in March 2017 from the West Wing, where she was deputy press secretary, and before that ran the Trump campaign’s press plane as director of traveling press in 2016. One of the early members of the Trump campaign, Grisham hails from Arizona, where she was the former press secretary for the Arizona House of Representatives.
Reagan Thompson joined the first lady’s team as policy adviser in January. While the first lady has yet to unveil a formal platform, Thompson is presumably helping to develop a more robust strategy for the first lady’s initiatives and causes, which have so far been broadly centered around helping children.
Thompson came to the East Wing from the National Security Council’s Middle East directorate. Prior to working for the National Security Council, Thompson was policy and communications adviser for then-Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, whom Trump has picked to be his next secretary of state. Thompson also held roles at Facebook and on various political campaigns.
A Stanford University graduate, Thompson completed her master’s degrees from Peking University in Beijing and the London School of Economics, according to a press release announcing her hire.
Annie LeHardy joined the first lady’s team in January from the West Wing, where she was previously a press assistant responsible for “wrangling” the White House press corps at official events. As communications coordinator, she now assists Grisham with press and communications efforts.
Before her time at the White House, LeHardy worked as a production coordinator for an independent film company. A University of North Carolina graduate, LeHardy was a student athlete on the cross country and track and field team.