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Pres. Trump addresses departure of his personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout

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(CBS)– President Trump commented Friday on the abrupt departure of his longtime personal assistant and director of Oval Office operations Madeleine Westerhout, confirming to reporters on the White House South Lawn that Westerhaot had apparently been drinking when she commented on the president’s children to reporters.

Mr. Trump called Westerhout a “good person” and declared the entire situation “unfortunate,” scolding the press for sharing details of an off-the-record conversation. Mr. Trump said he loves his younger daughter, Tiffany, after Politico reported Westerhout said the president doesn’t like to appear in pictures with her.

“She called me, she was very upset she was very down,” the president said of Westerhout. “And she said she was drinking a little bit and she was with reporters and everything she said was off the record.”

During the president’s vacation at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey earlier this month, Westerhout attended an off-the-record dinner with reporters at the Grain and Cane restaurant in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. Sources with knowledge of the dinner told CBS she had been drinking and disclosed private details about the president’s family.  She also gossiped about TV news personalities seeking access to the president. 

In Trump world there are leaks you can get away with, and there are leaks you cannot get away with. Anything having to do with the family falls into the second category.

Westerhout, 28, had worked for the Republican National Committee as an assistant to Chief of Staff Katie Walsh and the transition team before becoming a close aide to the president. She was often seen on camera escorting visitors through the Trump Tower lobby during the transition.

The dinner was not the first time she has been gossiping with reporters present. At a farewell event for former press secretary Sarah Sanders, Westerhout bragged about her gatekeeper status. Current and former White House officials found her to be a divisive personality and suspected she was disloyal to the president.

From the beginning, Westerhout was seen by some as an embodiment of the infighting between those who came to the Trump White House from the RNC and those who came from the campaign. 

One former official said of Westerhout, “she was a spy from day one who sought to use her proximity to the president to curry favor with his detractors.”

Politico reporter Tim Alberta wrote in his book “American Carnage” that Westerhout was “inconsolable” and seen crying on election night once it became clear Mr. Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton. 

Westerhout could not be reached for comment Thursday night. The White House had no on the record comment. 

Westerhout’s desk was just outside the Oval Office. As a special assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations, Westerhout earned $145,000 annually. 

Mr. Trump alluded to Westerhout’s importance during a phone call with journalist Bob Woodward in September 2018, according to a transcript released by The Washington Post. Mr. Trump claimed that he had not received any of Woodward’s several interview requests for his forthcoming book, “Fear.” 

“Did you speak to Madeleine?” Mr. Trump asked. Woodward said he did not. “Madeleine is the key,” Mr. Trump said. “She’s the secret.” The president often referred to her as “my beauty.”

The New York Times first reported Westerhout’s resignation.

A former senior White House official who has known Westerhout for years defended her. The former official said that she has been unfairly made a target of resentment by longtime members of the Trump world who were suspicious of her Republican National Committee roots. She was one of the few remaining staffers left at the White House who had come from the RNC and had been brought over by former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. 

The former official also denied Alberta’s account of her tears on election night in 2016 after Mr. Trump’s victory. 

“I was with her that night, I never saw her cry,” the former official said. 

Another former senior White House official likened Westerhout’s ouster to a “mob hit” and said the knives came out for her after she was highlighted in Alberta’s book over the summer. The book spawned Washington Post articles like Josh Dawsey’s July 11 piece which begins, “Few people have more power in President Trump’s White House than Madeleine Westerhout, his executive assistant who controls access to the Oval Office.” 

Another former White House communications official said of Westerhout’s sudden resignation, “In short, I am not surprised.”

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