Inside former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s rocky rise to the top of the Trump administration

Stephanie Grisham, Press Secretary and Communications Director for the First Lady Melania Trump, talks on the phone before President Donald J. Trump arrives to pardon Peas the turkey during the presentation of the National Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • Stephanie Grisham was announced in June as President Donald Trump’s newest press secretary.
  • The native Arizonian cut her teeth working for state lawmakers and on Sen. Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign.
  • Grisham was first lady Melania Trump’s communications director before becoming Trump’s press secretary. CNN was the first to report Tuesday that she was going back to the East Wing as the first lady’s chief of staff.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Stephanie Grisham became President Donald Trump’s press secretary in June 2019, and though she came to the office as a lesser-known face than Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she had a track record as a loyal Trump staffer long before her time as a senior White House staffer.

Grisham worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign after stints with Sen. Mitt Romney and Arizona state lawmakers.

Though Grisham’s road to the White House has been unpredictable and sometimes scandalous, she’s been lauded by the Trumps, including the first lady’s praise that she “can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country.”

When the East Wing announced Tuesday she was moving back to work in the first lady’s office, Grisham left behind a track record of controversy from her tense relationship with the White House press corps. She never held a press briefing.

See how Grisham rose to press secretary position, making history as the fourth woman ever to serve in the role.

Stephanie Grisham was born in Colorado on July 23, 1976, before she would go on to forge a career in Republican politics in her native state of Arizona.

Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for first lady Melania Trump, arrives for a campaign rally with U.S. President Donald Trump in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Source: Politico, Washington Post

Grisham moved to East Wenatchee, Washington, where she graduated from Eastmont High School in 1994. After high school, a Colorado Mesa University spokesperson told Insider that she was admitted at the school, but never enrolled.

Source: NCW Life

It’s unclear what she did between 1994 and 2007.

Grisham got married in 1997 and divorced in 2004. She has two sons, who seem to have been born in 1998 and 2008.

Then-Director of Communications for the First Lady Stephanie Grisham follows President Donald J. Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and son Barron Trump as they walk to Marine One to depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Friday, March 8, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Grisham married Dan Marries, who is now an evening news anchor for KOLD News 13 in Tucson, in 1997. Court records reported by the Arizona Republic show the couple filed for divorce in 2004.

The couple had one boy, named Kurtis. Grisham has a second son named Jake, whose father’s identity is not known.

One of Grisham’s earliest gigs as press head came in 2007, when she worked as the spokeswoman for AAA Arizona.


The agency hired her to help with “public relations, traffic safety initiatives and legislative efforts,” according to The Tucson Citizen.

However, the New York Times reported in August 2019 that Grisham’s time only lasted about a year, and one former AAA employee with direct knowledge of the matter told the Times Grisham left amid “accusations that she filed false claims for travel and other expenses.”

After leaving AAA, Grisham worked as a spokeswoman for the Arizona Charter Schools Association and in 2011 she joined Arizona attorney general Tom Horne’s staff as a spokeswoman.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne speaks to the media following the Supreme Court oral arguments in the Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona case on Monday, March 18, 2013. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Source: The New York Times

Grisham took time away from her job with Horne to work as a press flack on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to opponents of gay marriage at a rally at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, November 19, 2006. Romney is considering a bid for the Republican nomination for President of the the United States. Brian Snyder/Reuters

When Romney lost, Grisham was “devastated,” according to a comment she made in a 2017 interview.

The Arizona Republic noted in 2019 that records show Grisham began voting in her early 20s Arizona in 1997 as a registered Democrat and didn’t become a Republican “for at least a decade.”

After Romney lost, Grisham returned to working for Horne, where she confronted scandals plaguing the office.

While Grisham was working for Horne, he was under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations. When local reporters pressed his office on the allegations, Grisham dismissed questions as “overreaching, an invasion of privacy, and abusive use of your role in the media.”

Horne ultimately lost re-election and was fined for the campaign finance case.

Grisham then moved to a role as a spokeswoman for the Republican-held Arizona House of Representatives, where she faced another direct clash with the press.

Statue of Lt. Franke Luke Jr. in front of Arizona State Capitol Building at sunrise. Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2016, Grisham was at the heart of a conflict between Arizona House Republicans and local press, which mimicked her fiery future with the press in Washington.

In this March 9, 2016, file photo, Arizona House Speaker David Gowan speaks to visitors in his office at the Capitol in Phoenix. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office says it won’t prosecute former state House speaker Gowan following a fraud investigation into expense reimbursements. Bob Christie, File via AP

Grisham played a crucial role in Arizona Republican House Speaker David Gowan’s crackdown on reporters’ access to the chamber when she revokedThe Arizona Capitol Times’s press credentials for hours after the newspaper published an article that detailed allegations that Gowan had travelled at state taxpayers’ expense during his congressional campaign.

Gowan introduced a rule that reporters must undergo a personal and criminal background check and anyone found with convictions for serious crimes or misdemeanour trespass were banned from accessing the House floor.

The measure seemed targeted at Stephenson, who was the only Statehouse reporter with a trespassing charge, and reporters rallied around him until Gowan backed down.

In 2015, Grisham joined Trump’s presidential campaign as a press aide, and later became a member of his transition team.

Press aide Stephanie Grisham (centre, arms folded) looks on during election night events at Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters in New York City, New York, November 8, 2016. David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

When she first arrived in Washington with the administration, Grisham served as deputy to Trump’s first press secretary Sean Spicer.

Stephanie Grisham, Deputy Press Secretary, hands White House press secretary Sean Spicer a note as he speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In March 2017, Grisham was brought on as communications director for the East Wing to serve the first lady.

First lady Melania Trump, right, greets children released from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and their parents as her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, left, watches at Children’s National Health System, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Washington. Andrew Harnik/AP

Grisham first came into the spotlight when portions of the first lady’s signature “Be Best” program, which sought to promote childhood wellbeing in the age of the internet, were found to be directly copied from an Obama-era program.

First Lady spokesperson Stephanie Grisham before an event to celebrate First Lady Melania Trump’s ‘Be Best’ initiative in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 7, 2019, in Washington, DC. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Portions of a guide associated with the anti-drug and anti-bullying program called “Talking With Kids About Being Online” was found to be the same that former President Barack Obama’s administration created in 2009. Grisham denied this before lashing out at news reporters.

“Our office will continue to focus on helping children, and I encourage members of the media to attempt to Be Best in their own professions and focus on some of the children and programs Mrs. Trump highlighted in her remarks yesterday,” Grisham wrote in a widely distributed statement.

Grisham was also at the first lady’s first side for her landmark first trip abroad on a tour of African countries in October 2018.

First lady Melania Trump embraces flower girl Lillian Naa Adai Sai, 8, as she arrives at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Source: Business Insider

After just over a year in the East Wing, the administration announced on June 25, 2019 that Grisham would become the White House press secretary.

Grisham waits as Air Force One is refuelled at Elmendorf Air Force Base while travelling to Japan June 26, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Grisham was the fourth woman in history to serve in the role, and the third under a Republican president.

The appointment resurfaced some of her past, as The New York Times revealed Grisham had two DUI arrests on her record.

Stephanie Grisham. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Times reported that Grisham was arrested in 2013 for driving under the influence, speeding, and driving with an invalid licence, which was reduced the following year to a reckless driving charge. She was again arrested in December 2015 in Arizona for driving under the influence, to which she pleaded guilty and was ordered into a treatment program.

Grisham failed to appear in court for the 2015 arrest on two separate occasions when Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was in full swing, according to the Arizona Republic. The newly minted press head finished paying the fine on January 9, 2017, just two weeks before Trump took office.

Her former boss, former Rep. Horne, told the Republic that he didn’t know about the 2013 arrest and “don’t think it’s really relevant.”

“She did a fabulous job,” Horne told the outlet. “She was a great colleague, very friendly, conscientious, great advocate, had a good relationship with the press, and she’ll do a great job [in the White House].”

Grisham’s work and rise in the administration made her a notable member of the small circle of Trump’s longest-serving aides in an otherwise bumpy administration that has broken staff turnover records.

White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham attends a meeting on religious freedom at U.N. headquarters on September 23, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Grisham’s track record as a Trump loyalist sparked concerns as she entered the role, and continued the trend of not holding daily briefings.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, March 11, 2019. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

White House officials were reportedly debating whether to revive the daily news briefing ahead of the 2020 Election, just before Grisham’s appointment. However, those reports have proved unfruitful, as Grisham continued Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ trend away from daily news briefings.

Grisham said in September that she wasn’t likely to hold any press briefings, which she waved off as “a lot of theatre,” and said the decision was up to Trump.

“If the president decides that it’s something we should do, we can do that, but right now he’s doing just fine,” she said on “Fox & Friends.” “And to be honest, the briefings have become a lot of theatre. And I think that a lot of reporters were doing it to get famous. I mean, yeah, they’re writing books now. I mean, they’re all getting famous off of this presidency. And so, I think it’s great what we’re doing now.”

The newly appointed White House press secretary won some favour from her media colleagues when she got into a scuffle with North Korean aides just outside a room where Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were set to meet in front of the press during the June trip.

The video shows the press secretary pushing a North Korean security guard. screenshot

A video of the incident shows Grisham inside Freedom House in the country’s Demilitarized Zone pushing an aide with her whole body in what CNN reported was an “all-out brawl” as some security tried to prevent members of the American press pool from entering the room.

Grisham can be heard saying “go, go” and rushing a cameraman through to the chaotic scene where Trump and Kim were seated before a mass of cameras.

Grisham has talked before about how the intense nature of her work takes a toll on her family life, especially as a single mother.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham listens during a signing of a “safe third country” agreement in the Oval Office of the White House July 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

She said her demanding job has made it difficult to spend time with them.

“My little guy, he hugged me and just kind of turned around and walked away and I could tell he was upset so I pulled him back,” Grisham told Politico of being separated from her youngest son, Jake, during the campaign. “Short term, it’s a small sacrifice to make because I do think he’s best for the country.”

The Washington Post wrote in 2018 that because Grisham is a mum, she “plays a role in looking out for Barron, whom she can relate to because her younger son is about the same age.”

Despite her turbulent career path, Grisham said she always kept an eye on the prize.

Image Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“I’ve always had a picture of the White House and it would always sit right in front of my desk,” Grisham said in a local television interview after joining Trump’s administration. “Whenever I was having a hard day I could look at it and remember what my goal was.”

In October 2019, the press secretary put a personal spin on her criticism of reporters, responding to a jab from CNN anchor Anderson Cooper that she thought “CNN has lost sight of the fact that we are human beings.”

Side-by-side images of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. John Lamparski/WireImage, REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Cooper took aim at Grisham’s comment that Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s comments on an alleged quid pro quo deal with Ukraine were “theatre,” saying the press secretary should see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and re-evaluate her comment.

“I think CNN has lost sight of the fact that we are human beings,” Grisham told Business Insider in an email responding to the jab. “Just as Anderson Cooper has a job to do, working for a company he is proud of, so do I. I also imagine he has a personal life, where he has to juggle quite a bit – and the same goes for me.”

Grisham is going back to the East Wing as the first lady’s new chief of staff. In her 10 months as White House press secretary, she never held a press briefing.

Stephanie Grisham, Press Secretary and Communications Director for the First Lady Melania Trump, talks on the phone before President Donald J. Trump arrives to pardon Peas the turkey during the presentation of the National Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“I am excited to welcome Stephanie back to the team in this new role,” Melania Trump said in a statement. “She has been a mainstay and true leader in the Administration from even before day one, and I know she will excel as Chief of Staff.” Grisham said in her own statement: “I continue to be honoured to serve both the President and First Lady in the Administration.My replacements will be announced in the coming days and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”