While Melania and Ricardel have never met, tensions between their offices flared ahead of the First Lady’s trip to Africa last month. One issue was who would fly with Melania, a source familiar with the situation said. Ricardel had requested seats aboard the plane for herself and other N.S.C. staff, which would have taken away space reserved for press. When the East Wing decided there wasn’t room for N.S.C. staffers, Ricardel grew angry, according to the source, and threatened to withhold N.S.C. resources from the trip.

Ricardel made a critical miscalculation, N.S.C. veterans told me. “It was just expected that you would be a full service provider to the First Lady’s office in terms of making sure that they were substantively prepared in the way that they felt they needed for that travel. And that would include sending staff along at whatever level the First Lady’s office wanted,” the former N.S.C. official said. “It is almost like a one-way relationship, like a customer relationship, which is like ‘the boss is always right here,’” the former official continued, describing the traditional interplay between the two offices. “If there was conflict, it would seem to me that it would fall upon the N.S.C. staff to make it right. . . . Ordinarily, you would bend over backwards to make sure that the First Lady’s office had literally whatever it needed.”