WASHINGTON — Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel appears headed for an exit from the Trump administration, in a move likely welcomed from those loyal to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump intended to remove Ricardel from office, following an incident between the deputy and first lady Melania Trump during a recent trip to Africa. A further NBC News report cited an issue over allowing NSC staff on the first lady’s plane.

Asked about the report later in the afternoon by reporters, the first lady’s spokeswoman did not mince words, saying it “is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House” — an unusually strong and direct comment on national security matters from that office.

The news comes amidst a flurry of news reports that Trump’s chief of staff, retired Marine general John Kelly, may also be on the outs, in part over the expected firing of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen.

An early supporter of Trump’s campaign, Ricardel was part of the “landing team” for the Pentagon before moving to the Office of Presidential Personnel, where she oversaw nominations for filling the Defense Department. During that stint, she reportedly clashed with Mattis over a number of nominees, to the point that sources say Mattis forced her from the role.

She then moved to undersecretary of commerce for export administration before April, when new National Security Adviser John Bolton selected her as his deputy, a move viewed in Pentagon circles as a shot across the bow at Mattis.

If she does indeed exit, Ricardel would be the second member of Bolton’s inner team to leave office, following his chief of staff’s departure just a month ago.

The D.C. rumor mill has been churning for months that Ricardel hoped to end up back at the Pentagon in some form if Mattis was forced out; Ricardel has also been seen as friendly with Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan, due to their days together at Boeing.

Ricardel spent nine years at the company, including seven years as vice president of business development for strategic missile and defense systems and two years as vice president for international business development related to network and space systems.

Notably, after weeks of growing speculation that Mattis would be leaving the administration, the tide has turned. Many inside the Beltway now believe the secretary salvaged his relationship with Trump, in part because the swift support from the Pentagon in response to Trump’s call for troops at the border.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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