Donnatella Diane Moss is the Chief of Staff to First Lady, Helen Santos, and previously served as Senior Assistant to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman. She is portrayed by Janel Moloney.
Donna previously held the position of Senior Assistant to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and worked on both the Russell and Santos presidential campaigns in 2006, as well as Bartlet’s election campaigns in 1998 and 2002.
Donna was born in Warroad, Minnesota to an Italian mother and an Irish father, only to find out toward the end of President Bartlet’s first term that her hometown had retroactively been repositioned into Canada, stripping her of her United States citizenship (her status was restored thanks to a “grandfather clause” in the law). Her family later moved to Wisconsin, where Donna was raised. In the episode “And It's Surely to Their Credit” Josh Lyman has Donna’s birthday on his blackboard, placing her birthday sometime in the fall (going by the date the episode aired, sometime around the beginning of November). She joined the Bartlet campaign after breaking up with her boyfriend, only to leave to rekindle their relationship; it didn’t last, and Donna returned to work for Josh.
Donna spent nearly six years as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman’s primary assistant. She was among several White House staffers subpoenaed during the House of Representatives’ investigation into the concealment of President Bartlet’s multiple sclerosis. Around that time she met and dated Republican House Minority Counsel Cliff Calley; later while testifying, she stated not to keep a diary, which he knew to be false, having seen it in her bedroom the previous night. Josh worked with Cliff to ensure Donna’s lapse, which she said was an honest mistake, wouldn’t lead to a perjury case.
As the second Bartlet inauguration drew near, Donna told C.J. Cregg she had given a researcher with The Washington Post an inflammatory quote about tensions between civilian and military staffers at the White House. This angered Josh, Leo McGarry and other senior staffers, but Josh then realized Donna couldn’t have known the quoted information and that she was covering for Jack Reese, a Navy lieutenant commander she was dating.
As the second Bartlet term progressed, Donna became restless with her position and asked Josh to expand her role. He sent her on a congressional delegation to the Gaza Strip with Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt and retired Admiral Percy Fitzwallace. She’d send frequent emails to Josh during the trip and had a flirtation with an Irish photojournalist. A roadside bomb hit the vehicles carrying the American delegation, killing Fitzwallace and several others, and critically wounding Donna, who was flown to Germany for emergency surgery on a collapsed lung, a broken leg and other injuries. Josh flew there to be by her side.
Despite this mission, she resigns from her position as Senior Assistant, which Josh appears to be deeply hurt by.
After returning to work at the White House, Donna again felt her job limited and finally resigned to work as senior aide to Will Bailey, Vice President Bob Russell’s campaign manager for the 2006 presidential election, placing her in direct conflict with Josh—who had resigned his own White House position to run Matt Santos’s campaign. After Santos won the Democratic nomination, Donna applied to work for Josh at his campaign; he refused due to her months of personal attacks on Santos while working for the Russell campaign, but Communications Director Louise “Lou” Thornton then hired her as a campaign spokesperson, forcing them to reconcile. In the last days of the general election they finally gave in to years of unrequited mutual romantic feelings. When the stress of the transition overwhelmed Josh, Sam Seaborn gave him an ultimatum to take a vacation or he wouldn’t join as Deputy Chief of Staff, and Josh took Donna with him.
Donna took an interest to Helen Santos’s initial troubles with her husband’s advancing campaign, offering her support and experience, and eventually became the First Lady’s Chief of Staff.
Donna, like Margaret Hooper, is often presented as naïve, but the efficiency with which they kept their respective bosses on schedule belies that image. She usually took the ‘common man’ position as opposed to Josh’s ‘Ivy League’ governmental perspective, paid attention to the vast flo w of information around her and frequently changed her stance based on solid evidence and strong arguments presented. She was intuitive not just about Josh and his needs (as seen, for example, in “Noël”) but also many people she encountered, relating to the folks of “Hartsfield's Landing” in a way no one else in the White House had, and being the one to spot Senator Howard Stackhouse’s missing grandson and guess the underlying issue (“The Stackhouse Filibuster”). Donna’s composed demeanor and ability to retain information made her an invaluable asset to the Bartlet Administration, and later in the administration was courted to work in the private sector. When she argued to feel unqualified due to her never finishing undergraduate education, she was told that “working for Josh Lyman is better than a Master’s degree”.
- University of Wisconsin-Madison (dropped out after two years to work full-time and support her boyfriend, a med-student)
- 1998: Campaign Aide to Political Director Josh Lyman for the “Bartlet for America” presidential campaign
- 1999-2005: Senior Assistant to the Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning
- 2005-2006: Campaign Aide to Campaign Manager Will Bailey for the “Bob Russell for America” presidential campaign
- 2006: Press Secretary for the “Bob Russell for America” presidential campaign
- 2006: Press Secretary for the “Santos/McGarry for a Brighter America” presidential campaign
- 2007-present: Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the United States
Behind the scenes
- Donna was often the PoV character for the audience, the one posing questions to, or listening to explanations from, Josh as regarded the issues of the episode.
|Senior Assistant to the Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning
Marla Whorisky (temp)
|Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the United States