John Kelly Says He Warned Trump Of Impeachment If He Hired “Yes” Men
John Kelly, President Trump's former Chief of Staff, is speaking out nearly a year after leaving office
It’s been just under a year since retired General John Kelly left his position as President Trump’s Chief of Staff, and while he’s remained mostly silent during that period it appears that silence may be coming to an end. Kelly broke his silence during a political conference held yesterday at which he said he warned Trump that if the President hired a “yes” man to replace Kelly he would end up being impeached:
John Kelly, former chief of staff to President Trump, said Saturday he warned the president before he left the White House not to replace him with a “yes man” because it would lead to Trump’s impeachment.
Kelly also said he believed he could have prevented the current impeachment inquiry against Trump if he had stayed in the job. He said the inquiry could have been avoided if the president had surrounded himself with people who could rein in his worst instincts.
His candid remarks, made during an interview at a political conference hosted by the Washington Examiner, suggests he blames acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others in the West Wing for not doing more to stop Trump’s behavior.
“Someone has got to be a guide that tells [the president] that you either have the authority or you don’t, or Mr. President, don’t do it,” Kelly told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.”
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, has likened his time in the White House to wrestling with a bear every day, according to a person who spoke to him. The person asked not to be identified to speak candidly. Kelly also complained about the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the person said, as well as what Kelly said was Trump’s obsession with news coverage of himself
Kelly and Trump were barely on speaking terms when the former chief of staff left — after 18 months of sometimes titanic clashes.
In one of their final conversations, according to a person briefed on the topic, Trump asked Kelly not to write a book — and Kelly agreed, at least until Trump was out of office.
During the interview Saturday, Kelly expressed some regret about leaving.
“That was almost 11 months ago, and I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” Kelly said. “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”
Mulvaney has taken the different approach of letting “Trump be Trump.” The acting chief of staff regularly leaves the West Wing to visit his home in South Carolina, or golf, or attend political events, according to current and former aides.
During a second panel discussion, Kelly called Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria a “catastrophically bad idea.”
“It didn’t happen while I was there — and a couple of other people recently left the administration and then he went with his instinct,” Kelly said.
The White House, not surprisingly, pushed back almost immediately:
A war of words broke out Saturday between President Donald Trump and John Kelly after the former White House chief of staff said he warned his boss that replacing him with a “yes man” would lead to his impeachment.
“I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that,” Kelly told the Washington Examiner at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia. “Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.”
Trump fired back at Kelly later Saturday, questioning the veracity of the retired Marine Corps general’s remarks.
“John Kelly never said that. He never said anything like that. If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office,” Trump said, according to CNN. “He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham confirmed Trump’s response, adding, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
Kelly also suggests that it’s at least possible that President Trump would not find himself in the middle of the impeachment inquiry he faces now if Kelly had stayed on as Chief of Staff. While this can be seen in some sense as Kelly seeking to put himself in a good light, I think there’s merit to the argument. As his successor Mick Mulvaney was, it’s likely that Kelly would have been aware of what was going on with Ukraine and that he would have known that the President wanted to make aid to Ukraine and further good relations contingent on Ukrainian help in investigating Trump’s political rivals. Had Kelly been in the White House rather than Mulvaney, he likely would have had another one of his arguments with Trump as he tried to explain why what the President wanted to do was an improper offense that would likely lead to his impeachment. Kelly might have even been able to convince Trump not to go forward with the demand. Of course, that’s alternative history speculation, but it’s at least plausible. Instead of Kelly, though, Trump’s current Chief of Staff is the very kind of “yes” man that Kelly warned about. And we know what happened with Mulvaney in place.
Notwithstanding the White House’s denials, it seems likely that Kelly actually did tell Trump what he claims in no small part because it would be consistent with pretty much the entire history of Kelly’s tenure as Chief of Staff. During that time, there were numerous reports from inside the White House about the conflict between Kelly and other officials, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who routinely ignored Kelly’s efforts to control access to the President and essentially went behind his back to get information supporting their positions to the President. In addition to that, there were several reports during Kelly’s tenure of his getting into often loud confrontations with the President as well as several threats by Kelly to leave office prior to the time he actually did so in December 2018. Given that, it’s not at all implausible that Kelly would say this to the President and, indeed, he wouldn’t have been doing his job correctly if he hadn’t.
In addition to all of this, Kelly is absolutely correct in his assessment that hiring “yes” men or women is a significant part of what appears to have led to the impeachment crisis that the President finds himself in now. A President who surrounds themselves with people who don’t push back on the President’s ideas, present him without alternative scenarios, or point out the risks of taking a certain action is likely doomed to make serious mistakes. This is especially true of a President like Trump who came into office with no government experience whatsoever who was not used to being told he couldn’t do things because there is a higher law — the Constitution and the laws of the United States — that he must abide by or that taking a certain action would not be in his political interest. Trump has always been someone who believed himself to be the smartest person in the room and now we’re learning what happens when there’s nobody there to tell him otherwise.