WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to hire Monica Crowley, a longtime Fox News commentator, as his top communications official, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Ms. Crowley would succeed Tony Sayegh, who has been planning for several months to leave the Treasury in May. Her hiring would be another sign of the symbiosis between the Trump administration and Fox News, a launching pad for current White House officials and a place to land for those who leave. Mr. Sayegh is a former Fox News contributor.
While the Treasury position is primarily a platform for promoting President Trump’s handling of the economy, including his tax and trade policies, Ms. Crowley’s appointment is almost certain to raise questions.
She was considered for a high-ranking National Security Council job in 2017 and was also mentioned as a candidate to become the White House press secretary. But she dropped out of contention after the emergence of allegations that she plagiarized key passages in her 2012 book, “What the (Bleep) Just Happened?,” from Wikipedia and newspaper articles.
After CNN found evidence of plagiarism, HarperCollins withdrew the digital edition of the book. Separately, Politico found more than a dozen examples of passages in Ms. Crowley’s Ph.D. dissertation that had been taken from scholarly works.
At the time, Mr. Trump’s transition team portrayed the allegations as a political attack on Ms. Crowley.
Ms. Crowley could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. Fox News declined to comment, beyond saying she had not been formally affiliated with the network since 2016.
Speaking to Sean Hannity on Fox News in 2017, Ms. Crowley sought to rebut the accusations against her.
“What happened to me was a despicable, straight-up political hit job,” she said, claiming without presenting evidence that the allegations about her had been “debunked.”
In the interview with Mr. Hannity, Ms. Crowley said members of the Washington establishment were trying to destroy Mr. Trump. “They want him in prison,” she said. “This is a war.”
The choice of Ms. Crowley is a surprising one for Mr. Mnuchin, who has been seen as a voice of moderation in the Trump administration. In recent years, Ms. Crowley has emerged as a conservative firebrand, assailing Democrats and amplifying conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama’s heritage.
In a collection of videos unearthed by the liberal group Media Matters, Ms. Crowley described Mr. Obama’s policies as “un-American” and said questions about his birth certificate were “very legitimate.” Mr. Trump was a leading voice of the so-called birther movement, which was built on questioning, without factual basis, where Mr. Obama was born.
“It all feeds into this idea that somehow, fair or not, Obama is not one of us,” Ms. Crowley told the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who said she was being unfair to Mr. Obama.
Ms. Crowley has been a fixture on Fox News and in conservative media for decades, having joined the network as an international affairs analyst in 1998. Before that, she worked as a foreign policy assistant and research consultant to former President Richard M. Nixon. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.
The Treasury appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, is ultimately Mr. Trump’s to make. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A second person familiar with the administration’s thinking about the decision said the White House wanted to add staff members who, like Ms. Crowley, could be counted on to fiercely defend Mr. Trump’s policies on television as the 2020 election season gets into full swing. It was not clear how much airtime Ms. Crowley would get, however, as Mr. Mnuchin likes to keep close control over the Treasury’s public communications.
Credible allegations of plagiarism would normally be problematic for securing a senior role in an administration, especially a job that entailed providing potentially market-moving information to the public. But Mr. Trump has not been deterred from picking others with tarnished résumés for high-profile positions, recently standing behind Stephen Moore and Herman Cain as his choices to be governors of the Federal Reserve despite questions about their qualifications and personal lives.
The Trump administration’s communications team has been in transition since Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president, resigned last month as deputy chief of staff for communications.
Mr. Mnuchin’s staff has also been in flux. Eli Miller, his chief of staff, departed this month to join the Blackstone Group, the giant investment firm. David Malpass, the under secretary for international affairs, left to become president of the World Bank.
Mr. Mnuchin is girding for what will probably to be a long and intense battle with Congress as House Democrats, using a provision of the tax code, have formally requested six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns. Mr. Mnuchin, who is one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal aides and who oversees the Internal Revenue Service, has resisted turning over the returns, citing taxpayer privacy.
Ms. Crowley will have a formidable task in succeeding Mr. Sayegh. He emerged as one of Mr. Mnuchin’s closest confidants and was a liaison to the White House and Congress during the drafting and passage of the Republican tax-cut plan in 2017. He advised Mr. Mnuchin on his television presentation and encouraged the secretary to be more available to reporters.
Mr. Sayegh, the assistant secretary for public affairs, has been leading the search for his successor. His future plans are unknown.
A Treasury Department spokesman declined to comment on Ms. Crowley’s hiring, which was reported earlier by Bloomberg News.