For the past 18 months, Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, and other conservatives have plied the White House with memos and suggestions about which people to fire — and who should replace them.
President Trump has generally treated Ms. Thomas’s suggestions coolly, passing them off to advisers, according to people familiar with Ms. Thomas’s efforts. But since the end of the Senate impeachment trial, the president has become more distrustful of the people filling the ranks of government and has been giving those recommendations a closer look.
The memos from Ms. Thomas were first reported by Axios.
Among Ms. Thomas’s top targets have been officials at the National Security Council, the former head of the White House personnel office, Sean Doocey, and other top White House aides. Another target was Jessie K. Liu, who recently left her job as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for a job in the Treasury Department that was later withdrawn by the White House.
Ms. Thomas, a politically active conservative who for nearly seven years has led a group called Groundswell, also successfully lobbied for a role for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the former attorney general of Virginia who is now the acting deputy secretary of homeland security.
Mr. Trump recently shook up the personnel office, replacing Mr. Doocey with John McEntee, who was fired from his previous job at the White House, with a mandate to look for “bad” people, according to multiple administration officials.
But White House officials have privately questioned Ms. Thomas’s lobbying on personnel, and have said Mr. Trump — who is facing several decisions before the Supreme Court personally and in terms of administration policy — has made clear he is conscious of whom she is married to.
Still, in the last year, as Mr. Trump has grown more mistrustful of his government, the sway held by Ms. Thomas and her group has increased. Administration officials have routinely sent aides to attend weekly Groundswell meetings held at the offices of Judicial Watch, another conservative group led by a vocal defender of the president, Tom Fitton.
Mr. Trump was also given a memo about Ms. Liu that officials attributed to a Senate Judiciary Committee staff member named Barbara Ledeen, another member of Groundswell, though it was drafted with input from other conservatives. The memo mentioned the failure to prosecute Andrew G. McCabe, a former F.B.I. official whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked, as a strike against Ms. Liu, as well as her signing the sentencing memo of Michael T. Flynn, a friend of Ms. Ledeen’s.
Ms. Ledeen and Ms. Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Ledeen also raised concerns with the staff of Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, about Ms. Liu when she was nominated for the No. 3 job at the Justice Department in March 2019, according to three people familiar with the discussion. After Mr. Lee and others objected to Ms. Liu’s appointment, the White House withdrew her nomination.
Ms. Liu became a flash point again when she was nominated to the Treasury Department post. Someone provided Mr. Trump with a fresh copy of the memo attributed to Ms. Ledeen, according to a person familiar with the events.
And another memo Ms. Thomas passed along accused Mr. Doocey of obstruction related to State Department jobs, and claimed that he had surreptitiously switched one appointee for another for a foreign aid agency. That particular claim was demonstrably false, according to three people familiar with the memo.
The New York Times reported in January 2019 that Mr. Trump met that month with Ms. Thomas and a half-dozen of her members at what was at times a contentious meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. At that meeting, Ms. Thomas insisted that White House personnel were blocking appointments of supporters of the president, and handed him a list of suggested appointees.
Since the meeting, Ms. Thomas and her group have been pressing Mr. Trump to replace job holders they did not consider reliably conservative and have complained to White House staff that they were not getting enough attention from the personnel office.
Privately, officials in that office told associates that Ms. Thomas’s suggested hires could never survive proper vetting, including possibilities such as David A. Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee County for a homeland security role, or the Fox News guest Dan Bongino for a counterterrorism post.
Despite her own history of supporting Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the Republican presidential nomination and of trying to stop Mr. Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ms. Thomas has presented herself to the White House as a barometer of who is sufficiently conservative and supportive of the Trump agenda, according to current and former administration officials.
Mr. Trump has alternately listened to and been dismissive of Ms. Thomas’s entreaties, according to people familiar with his thinking. But the White House has frequently sent administration officials to meet with members of Groundswell.
A person close to Ms. Thomas said she did not intend for Groundswell to be her alter ego, and that she merely saw herself as a launching point for conservative input at the White House.
One concern among White House officials has been that outsiders like Ms. Thomas and her allies do not understand how the personnel office functions.
In its previous iteration under Mr. Doocey, the office tried to serve as a buffer, getting input and at times pushback about possible hires from the White House Counsel’s Office, the Office of Political Affairs and cabinet secretaries. Mr. Doocey, who had told associates that his goal was to always try to shield the president from problematic appointments, reported directly to the chief of staff.
Mr. Trump would sometimes tell conservative activists such as Ms. Thomas that he could not fulfill their wishes because his aides were stopping him. He has said such things even when he agreed that certain recommendations did not make sense, essentially faulting aides for his own choices to avoid confrontation, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. McEntee will report directly to Mr. Trump, giving Mr. McEntee more leeway but also denying the president that buffer when it comes to dealing with people who try to lobby him on personnel matters.
But it is unclear how much ideological purity Mr. Trump can achieve in his appointments, given how few Republicans supported his candidacy from its inception, the rivalries within his administration, and the stream of aides, consultants, advisers or friends who at some point have whispered in his ear that someone was trying to undermine him.